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Graphic: Human Rights & Immigration panel event

2020 Summer Forum Human Rights & Immigration Panel

by Nefertari Elshiekh

The third Summer Forum 2020 panel, Human Rights & Immigration Law, took place on July 16th. We discussed the hot-button issue of immigration and the multitude of ways one can come to an immigration practice or pro bono opportunity. Our experts included:

  • Sarah Besnoff, Associate, Paul Hastings LLP
  • Lucia Curiel, Immigration Attorney, Maryland Office of the Public Defender
  • Azadeh Erfani, Senior Policy Analyst, National Immigration Justice Center
  • Michael Lukens, Associate Director, CAIR Coalition
  • Jessalyn Schwartz, Staff Attorney, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND)

The panel was moderated by Karen Grisez, Public Service Counsel at Fried Frank LLP.

The panelists represented a wide array of perspectives from policy to direct representation; nonprofit to private law firm; and immigration court to state court for children’s cases, but one commonality amongst the panelists was their connection to CAIR Coalition. Most of the panelists had volunteered or worked for CAIR Coalition at some point during their careers!

Azadeh kicked off the conversation by talking about how her journey has progressed over the years: starting off by directly representing clients before shifting into impact through litigation and policy. She explained how common it is in the detention world to be told that this is going to be a hard case to win, but she advised, “If you have that fire in you, it motivates you to beat the odds.”

She went on to highlight the intersection between immigration and human rights, expressing “I don’t see the U.S. as a haven, generally speaking. I see the U.S. as having a responsibility, precisely because of the historical role it has played in destabilizing other countries, and I think that is a human rights mandate.”

Sarah, who provides a BigLaw perspective, offered three crucial and valuable tips for what you can do to integrate pro bono work into your time at a law firm: 1) jumping right in by really trying to have your first case be a pro bono case, 2) taking advantage of as many training opportunities as possible, and 3) utilizing mentor relationships as an opportunity to do a pro bono case together.

The first two Summer Forum panels touched on the importance of pro bono assistance in allowing each organization to help as many people as possible, and Jessalyn, who has worked closely with Sarah, echoed this sentiment. Jessalyn emphasized how her background in trauma-informed representation and child welfare has been helpful to the work she does with KIND, which includes both representing clients and mentoring pro bono lawyers.

We also discussed the varied ways in which immigration work touches on other areas of the law and allows for unique partnerships. Lucia commented on the intersection between criminal law and immigration law. She encouraged the audience to use law school as an opportunity to explore different areas of law and practice settings to find out what you are interested in. Michael underscored the collaborative nature of this field, and how he oversees where CAIR Coalition directs its advocacy efforts to ensure that they are not just recreating resources that are already out there but adding to it through partnerships.

Immigration and human rights work is a field of great need. Lawyers that dive into this work change their clients’ lives in profound ways. It is challenging, but extremely rewarding, work!

Contribute to the Summer Forum conversation on social media using #SumFo20.

Nefertari Elshiekh is the 2020 Washington Council of Lawyers Summer Intern.


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