Our Summer Forum concluded with our Immigration and Human Rights Panel on the afternoon of June 22, 2023! Thank you to everyone that joined us this summer for this incredible event! This panel focused on how someone can get involved in immigration work as a career path or as a volunteer. The ways immigration work has changed or remained the same in recent years and what contributed to those circumstances. Finally, the ways immigration and human rights intersect with other important considerations such as racism and systemic injustice.
The Immigration and Human Rights Panel was moderated by Andrea Mangones, Pro Bono Coordinating Attorney at Kids in Need of Defense. Our panelists include: Karen Grisez, Public Service Counsel at Fried Frank; Marcia Tavares Maack, Global Director of Pro Bono at Mayer Brown; Adonia Simpson, Director of Policy and Pro Bono at the ABA Commission on Immigration (COI); Deepa Bijpuria, Managing Attorney at Ayuda; and Jessalyn Schwartz, Senior Attorney at Kids in Need of Defense. Learn more about our panelists and their backgrounds here.
We jumped right in with discussing where immigration and human rights work happens and how the efforts of legal service providers and pro bono volunteers create a synergy of success. Legal service organizations providing direct client services to communities in need often lack the resources to serve everyone. Pro bono volunteers not only help to alleviate this gap but can also channel greater resources to their cases. For example, in immigration cases, many clients and legal services organizations cannot afford to do international discovery or pay for experts that could make or break a case. Pro bono volunteers working in a team can achieve that work and assist someone from experiencing deportation or other life-altering legal decisions.
Pro bono volunteers also assist in creative problem-solving in this constantly evolving area of law. The COI uses both attorney and non-attorney volunteers to find innovative solutions to provide services to clients. Many volunteers struggle to take on full-representation pro bono cases on top of their workload, so the COI works with volunteers to deconstruct cases to discover where limited representation or brief advice would have the greatest impact on immigration cases. Moreover, they work to empower immigration communities to be engaged in their legal proceedings so they can fully understand their rights in the process.
The panel then discussed how changes in the presidential administration changed the immigration law landscape for better and for worse. With the previous president, there were changes in immigration policy that required lawyers to pivot quickly in stressful situations. The current administration has made some improvements, however, the system is still experiencing a five to six year backlog, and many of the improvements need lawyers to be accessible. While policy changes are helpful, they are still a part of the greater legal system that is complex and often convoluted. When looking at where advocacy has the most impact today, our panelists believe this is not the time for legislation or pushing cases to the federal courts. Rather, the current legal landscape is more suited for advocacy at lower levels in agencies and local courts.
We concluded our conversation by discussing the intersection of immigration and racism. To start, our panelists talked about the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance (LFAA) and its report on Racism in Immigration Law. In practice, panelists discussed how racism is embedded in our system, including both the laws and some judges. The immigration system has a disparate impact on folks of different races and judges make culturally insensitive comments that have real impacts on clients. While a single lawyer can’t change the system, they can make a record of moments that were improper so that corrections can be made on the bias of judges that don’t understand cultural differences.
We hope you are inspired to get involved with these organizations and the work they are doing to increase access to human rights, especially in immigration law. Thank you for joining us for the 2023 Summer Forum and we look forward to another incredible conversation next year!