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Pro Bono Week 2019 Profile: Bez Stern – Representing Unaccompanied Children

By Jessalyn Schwartz

In recent years, the complexities of immigration advocacy have dominated headlines and galvanized the legal field.  Representing unaccompanied children is a uniquely difficult task due to fear within the immigrant community, mistrust of legal and immigration systems, and challenges like family separation and increased barriers to relief.  Children come to the United States fleeing horrific violence, severe abuse, deep poverty, gangs and other unimaginable harm. As the number of unaccompanied minors entering the United States rises, so does the need for quality representation of these children in their immigration cases. Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) recruits child-friendly pro bono attorneys to take on this important casework and KIND’s Washington, D.C. office was fortunate to find Bezalel Stern, Special Counsel at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP.

Bez is an engaged, attentive, and compassionate advocate who, during the course of enthusiastically representing his first KIND client, learned about another unaccompanied minor who needed representation and, without hesitation, took on that second case. In the course of thirteen months, Bez and his team successfully obtained state court predicate orders in both cases, enabling his clients to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). He also prepared and submitted the necessary applications to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), with one requiring an incredibly quick turnaround. Both cases are now pending with USCIS and Bez continues to monitor their progress while supporting his clients through their ongoing immigration court removal proceedings. Through his diligence, these clients, now both age 18, are on the road to legal status with the confidence of having a zealous advocate on their sides.

Bez felt that the most rewarding moments in his pro bono experience came when he saw his child clients’ faces light up when their state court orders were granted, and they knew that they were able to move forward on a path to permanent status. In addition to his service to our clients, Bez has been an invaluable source of information for KIND, providing essential feedback on ever-changing state court processes in both the District of Columbia and Virginia.

Bez shared that he sought out pro bono work because he believes he should do everything he can to join the broader conversation in the field. He knew that he was interested in seeking out pro bono immigration opportunities and was specifically drawn to KIND to help children, who he views as the most vulnerable population crossing our borders. While his daily legal work is intellectually stimulating, the work with KIND reminded Bez why he became a lawyer in the first place – to use his law degree to help individuals in need.

The immigration process is a daunting and complicated one, especially for children who have no right to counsel and are expected to face it alone. “It is near impossible to manage the system without a lawyer,” stated Bez, and he further expressed that even an experienced attorney can encounter difficulties navigating the many technicalities in the law.

More than 70 percent of unaccompanied children lack representation in their immigration cases. Pro bono attorneys like Bez selflessly take on these complex matters, seeing the dire need for assistance and lending their time and resources to help clients who may otherwise be unable to obtain immigration relief. KIND is thrilled to spotlight Bez Stern during Pro Bono Week 2019 and hopes that others will be inspired to follow his lead and find fulfillment through pro bono representation.

Jessalyn Schwartz is a staff attorney with KIND and co-editor of our East of the River Profiles blog.