Virginia, US

This post is part of a series celebrating Pro Bono Week 2019  in the UK, which runs from 4 to 8 November this year, providing an opportunity to encourage, recognise and celebrate the work of lawyers who volunteer their services for free to those who would not otherwise afford legal advice.

We have a long and proud tradition of engaging in community and pro bono work across the globe; giving back is not just a side note for us, it is one of our core values. We recognise we are fortunate to have opportunities and that we have a duty to share our talent and skills to help others find theirs. To celebrate the contribution of our staff and charity partners in furthering this goal and encourage others to participate, this Pro Bono Week we are highlighting our pro bono initiatives in this Fragomen Gives Back blog series.

Fragomen offices in the US have a strong tradition of giving back and attorneys are encouraged to provide at least 50 hours of pro bono services each year. We participate in naturalization workshops; provide immigration services to battered spouses; work at the detention center in Dilley, Texas; represent asylum applicants, and assist members of the military who have families that need immigration advice.

In the past, I have represented asylum applicants seeking protection from political violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nepal, along with applicants seeking protection from transgender hate crimes in Mexico. 

Since I have been working in London on secondment, I have continued to pursue pro bono activities. I have taken on several cases through the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s (AILA) Military Assistance Program (MAP).  AILA MAP is a collaborative effort between AILA and the Legal Assistance Office of the United States military Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. The partnership was created to assist JAG attorneys who have been inundated with complex immigration legal questions. Even though I have never served in the military, I grew up in a military family, so I feel a connection to the clients with whom I have worked.

Recently, I have worked with several families seeking parole in place.  The parole in place policy aims to prevent the separation of US military families by allowing certain family members to remain in the US. In addition to being authorized to stay, the previously undocumented family member may also be eligible for employment authorization. In addition, once granted, parole in place provides a basis for applying for US permanent residence.

Over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to obtain parole in place. This is a result of changes in policy and attitudes towards immigration in the US.  I recently had two applications approved through the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) office in Kansas City, Missouri. My third case continues to be held by the USCIS Office in Memphis, Tennessee.  It has been pending for more than two years without any significant action. Despite this, my client has not given up hope. I continue to work with them to obtain Congressional liaison assistance and explore options to file a mandamus lawsuit to force USCIS to adjudicate the case. Recently, the poor treatment of military families by USCIS was the subject of a Congressional hearing where Margaret Stock, an AILA attorney based in Anchorage, Alaska, and the founder of MAP, testified on behalf of immigrant families in the military. Hopefully, increased public scrutiny will help to push cases through and keep the MAP program strong.

Pro bono cases have provided me with a new perspective about the challenges faced by people – one that is different from what I experienced working with employment cases. Both are equally important, but it is beneficial for attorneys to have this experience of working with family-based applicants. Also, it is personally rewarding to help people who would not have access to legal representation otherwise.

Read more blogs in the Fragomen Gives Back series: