By Jennifer Grishkin & Caroline Largoza
Two of CAIR Coalition’s longstanding pro bono partners, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, recently collaborated with each other and CAIR Coalition to profoundly change the life of a young Honduran child whom the government held for nearly a year in prolonged immigration detention. In doing so, their teams of talented attorneys advanced cutting-edge litigation that will help many similarly situated children.
The client, “Yasmin,” is a 14-year-old girl who fled to the United States with her older sister to escape violence and poverty in her home country. Border patrol agents apprehended the sisters at the Texas border, and DHS officials quickly forced Yasmin’s sister to return to Honduras. Because of Yasmin’s legal status as an unaccompanied child, the government sent Yasmin to an Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facility in our area, where it was required by law to release Yasmin from immigration detention without unnecessary delay to a parent or other approved sponsor or place Yasmin in the “least restrictive” setting appropriate only if such release was not possible.
Outside of the ORR facility, one of Yasmin’s relatives was willing to sponsor her. This relative had known Yasmin since she was very young and quickly began working on the sponsorship application process. However, for reasons unknown, ORR denied the sponsorship application.
Yasmin languished at the ORR detention facility for ten months, which is nearly six times as long as the average child in a detention center. During this time, Yasmin endured potential exposure to COVID-19 and repeated COVID-related lockdowns of the facility, sexual harassment, and deteriorating health – all while being kept from her family against her will. Yasmin rapidly became frustrated and hopeless with her situation and began to exhibit despondency, stress, and a loss of appetite.
While Yasmin was detained, CAIR Coalition’s Immigration Impact Lab had begun utilizing habeas litigation as a vehicle to win release for children held by ORR in prolonged detention. The Lab created a toolkit, the first of its kind in the nation, to guide pro bono attorneys willing to partner with CAIR Coalition in such cases.
With the toolkit prepared, the CAIR Coalition pro bono coordinating team thought Yasmin’s situation would be a great opportunity to bring together attorneys from Gibson Dunn and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. The two organizations frequently work together professionally in their regular work, and they had recently co-hosted a CAIR Coalition training for their attorneys to garner interest in immigration pro bono work.
Attorneys Howard Hogan, Jeffrey Rosenberg, Patricia Herold, and Rebecca Rubin at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Abigail Yull and Jesse Glickstein at Hewlett-Packard Enterprise accepted the challenge. For the HPE team, Abigail Yull explained that once they heard Yasmin’s story “there was really not an option not to take the case—we knew we had to prioritize helping a young girl in an extremely vulnerable situation over our other matters.” Similarly, Howard Hogan shared that “Gibson Dunn wanted to find opportunities to help the members of the community who were most at risk” from the pandemic, and the government’s determination to keep Yasmin detained and at heightened risk of contracting the virus “was particularly unconscionable.”
The attorneys quickly mobilized to help Yasmin. With CAIR Coalition serving as co-counsel and mentor, the pro bono teams consulted with Yasmin frequently, contacted Yasmin’s potential sponsors, requested information from ORR officials, and tried to work with ORR to secure her release. When it was clear that ORR would not do its job to find an acceptable custodian for Yasmin, the team filed a habeas corpus petition on her behalf. Their complaint alleged that by refusing to reunify Yasmin with a willing sponsor and allow her to leave the detention center, the government violated the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, the Constitution’s Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
Just days after the filing, the Office of Refugee Resettlement identified an alternative family sponsor for Yasmin whom they had failed to identify throughout the first nine months of the child’s detention. The government quickly approved Yasmin’s second sponsor and finally released her to live as a normal child with her family member. This rapid result illustrates that “advocates for immigrant children need to keep the government honest,” said Howard Hogan. “When we first got involved with the case, the government told us that they had given up and were going to recommend that Yasmin be turned over to the foster care system, on a very uncertain schedule. Once we filed a habeas petition and forced the government to justify its position, they miraculously found an acceptable custodian.” Abigail Yull agrees that “the swift, strong, determined actions” that the pro bono team took “prompted the government to realize it could not defend Yasmin’s continued (or past) detention.”
From CAIR Coalition’s perspective, Yasmin’s case serves as a great example not only of using innovative legal strategies and strong advocacy efforts to help immigrant children, but also of the benefits that come from collaboration among teams with different strengths. As Howard Hogan notes, “It was a true team effort and collaboration between co-counsel as we developed the strategy, built out the record, wrote and improved our filings, prepared for the court hearing, and strategized how to keep the pressure on the government to release our client.”
Without the steadfast support and hard work by Gibson Dunn and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Yasmin likely would still be separated from her family and held in long-term foster care. CAIR Coalition is grateful for HPE and Gibson Dunn’s work to help Yasmin and is hopeful that their success with this habeas case will alter the course of prolonged detention cases in the future.
Jennifer Grishkin is the Pro Bono Coordinating Attorney at CAIR Coalition. Caroline Largoza is an intern with CAIR Coalition.