There is an untold story about the lasting impact of President Trump’s immigration policies. And unlike many other immigration stories these days, this one is both inspiring and hopeful.
It begins at the earliest moments of the Trump administration. In the days just after his inauguration, attorneys flooded airports across the country to provide legal assistance to those impacted by a new ban to prevent many travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
This mobilization, sparked by what many lawyers quickly recognized as a discriminatory and misguided action, was far from a flash in the pan. In fact, it was the beginning of a burgeoning movement of energized lawyers to ensure that immigrants were treated fairly under U.S. laws.
The need for legal representation for immigrants seeking asylum or facing deportation is nothing new. Without government-provided counsel and often detained in remote locations, 86% of all people fighting their removal do so without an attorney. The odds of successfully navigating our labyrinthian immigration system drop precipitously when doing so without a lawyer.
But as the attacks on immigrants have increased under this administration, so has the call to action, and the response.
Take the summer of 2018, when the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy led to the forced, heartbreaking separation of parents and children at the border. Volunteer attorneys, translators, social workers, and health care experts halted their lives and donated their time to ensure the release and reunification of thousands of families. It was also during this time that the Immigration Justice Campaign, an initiative that I lead, catapulted to a community of 10,000 people willing to offer “pro bono” (free) representation and services to detained immigrants.
Our volunteers have fought, and in many cases won, relief on behalf of separated families, transgender asylum seekers fleeing persecution in their home countries, Indonesian Christians unfairly subjected to deportation, and hundreds of asylum seekers detained in remote areas throughout the United States. The volunteers themselves include attorneys who have come out of retirement to represent asylum seekers; undergraduate students who have traveled with teams to Dilley, Texas to assist asylum-seeking families detained at the nation’s largest family detention facility; and associates at large law firms with no previous knowledge of immigration law. They have dedicated vacation days, money, and energy to help immigrants locked up in detention centers fight for a fair day in court.
The role of volunteer work on behalf of detained immigrants cannot be overstated when reflecting on the ways that destructive immigration policies have been mitigated. Immigration attorneys volunteering in their own field, attorneys from different areas of law who have immersed themselves in immigration law and policy to take on pro bono cases, and volunteers from other fields altogether, have made an immense—often lifesaving—difference. Among detained immigrants, those with legal representation are twice as likely to obtain immigration relief and four times more likely to be released from custody while they continue their case.
Recently we celebrated National Pro Bono Week, a recognition of individuals donating their time to serve others. I have the privilege of working with many such individuals who inspire me every day. Their motivation to give their time and learn the wonky intricacies of asylum laws is grounded in a calling to do so. It inspires them to step out of their comfort zones and step into immigration detention centers with a desire to bear witness and bring hope to those impacted by harsh immigration policies. If you are so inclined, consider donating your time and skills or money to support the Justice Campaign today. The need is abundant, and the impact is vast.