It is an open secret that lack of access to counsel is a stain on the country’s immigration system, and the NOBA Immigration Committee is committed to helping solve this problem through pro bono mentoring. A recent Stanford study found that non-citizens are at least three times more likely to win their immigration case if they are assisted by counsel. Numbers can be even starker for juveniles, who are five times more likely to succeed with an attorney. In 2014, only 17% of the children in the New Orleans Immigration Court had representation.
Yet, no government-funded public defender exists for Immigration Court or other types of immigration proceedings. Although New Orleans has a number of qualified immigration attorneys, many individuals simply cannot afford to hire an attorney.
Pro bono mentorship is a central goal of the Immigration Committee. We are happy to connect interested NOBA practitioners specializing in any area of law to experienced immigration attorney mentors. New Orleans has an incredible array of pro bono immigration mentors and types of cases. Pro bono case options range from political asylum, securing legal permanent residency for unaccompanied minor immigrant children, and securing bond release for detained immigrants in Immigration Court proceedings.
Pro bono immigration work leads to a fulfilling professional practice. “What I love about pro bono immigration practice is the opportunity to truly make a difference in a person’s life through a single case,” explains Nadja Helm, Supervising Attorney, Immigration and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities of New Orleans.
Pro bono immigration practice also provides useful litigation and administrative advocacy skills. “Big firm attorneys and commercial litigators can get involved in individual cases or can assist with cases on appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals or Fifth Circuit,” notes Nadja. Immigration Court pro bono work allows interested young attorneys the opportunity to litigate their first court case while providing an invaluable service to a well deserving client base. Pro bono work also now counts towards CLE credits.
The New Orleans immigration bar is tightly knit and offers incredible support for pro bono attorneys. Interested practitioners should feel free to email me for more information and for connections with local immigration mentors. A number of great pro bono immigration programs have already been established with great success. For example, immigration attorney Kathleen Gasparian’s “PB&J” (Pro Bono and Juvenile) Program focuses on securing representation for unaccompanied minor juveniles. PB&J hosts regular CLE programs, including an upcoming program on May 28, 2015 from 2:00 to 5:00 at the US District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, Rm C455, at 500 Poydras St. Other great sources for pro bono immigration mentoring are the Loyola Immigration Clinic and Catholic Charities.
Written by Duncan Fulton, Immigration Committee Co-Chair, Associate Attorney at Ware|Immigration