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Pro Bono Week Profiles: Georgetown Law Students Supporting Pro Se Asylum Efforts

What began as an emergency response to the immediate needs of busloads of migrants being dropped at Union Station last summer has grown into a coordinated response by Georgetown Law’s Immigration Law Student Association (ILSA), volunteer attorneys from private firms and non-profit organizations, as well as other Georgetown law, graduate, undergraduate students, and alumni.

Following several months of laying the groundwork in 2022, the dedicated group of advocates, spearheaded by JD ’23 and then-ILSA President Kendra Blandon and the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, began hosting monthly pro se asylum clinics on Georgetown Law’s campus. The clinics bring together local attorneys, student and non-student volunteers, and asylum applicants who have recently settled in the DMV. Volunteers commit to assisting one asylum seeker in understanding USCIS Form 1-589, filling out their answers, and filing the form. Volunteers learn about the asylum process, client interviewing, fact-finding, and concise writing – all traits of a good lawyer and a good advocate. They have the opportunity to meet local immigrants’ rights advocates, work directly with applicants, observe the asylum process firsthand, and log pro bono hours.

“I founded the clinics after volunteering with the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network (MSMAN) to welcome busses of migrants,” says Kendra. “I [did so] because I realized I had all the resources I needed to solve a problem I care deeply about. Our immigration system is deeply complex and is built to exclude migrants, even those with strong cases, by burying them in paperwork, appointments, and information that can only be accessed and submitted in English.” Kendra, who now is a Staff Attorney at CAIR Coalition’s Immigration Impact Lab, wants to be clear: “Our clinics are not charity or a handout. They are an exercise in solidarity, in standing up for others and giving what we can. We provide migrants with critical information and resources to file asylum applications. In return, they share their courage, strength, hope, fears, and perseverance with us.”

Current ILSA President Alex Ciullo (JD ‘24) is proud to continue these workshops alongside Kendra and MSMAN: “I am hugely proud to have helped expand these clinics to be greater than when they started several months ago. While anti-immigrant sentiment swirls around the country, it is encouraging to watch volunteers of all ages come together to help our new neighbors through the unimaginably complex and often unfair immigration system. ILSA is especially excited to offer students a firsthand look into the world of immigration law — a legal field that is too often looked down upon and dismissed.”

The most recent clinic was held on September 9, 2023. To date, ILSA-hosted pro se asylum clinics have supported more than 230 asylees, and they show no signs of slowing.

If you are interested in getting involved, please sign up as a volunteer at this link.

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