When President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in June 2012, undocumented immigrants were given the opportunity to step out of the shadows and finally pursue their dreams of becoming doctors, engineers, and teachers in the U.S. The program gives a two-year, renewable reprieve from deportation to undocumented immigrants who meet a variety of eligibility requirements, including those who came to the U.S. before age 16 and are in school, high school graduates, or military veterans. Potential participants also need to be under the age of 31 and have lived in the U.S. for five years. An estimated 1.7 million people are eligible for the program and as of January 154,404 have been granted deferred action.
The large demand for legal advice for those seeking a reprieve has led lawyers around the country to gather and provide pro bono assistance to the qualifying immigrants. In Illinois, the National Immigration Justice Center (NIJC) holds weekly clinics to meet the needs of the estimated 75,000 youth between the ages of 16 to 30 in Illinois eligible for the DACA program. Attorneys from Exelon Corporation** partnered with Dentons*† (formerly SNR Denton) to help staff these clinics. The legal department at United Airlines and the Chicago chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel also volunteer at these clinics. They work directly with clients to fill out the 20-page application for deferred action and help them find document evidence to prove their eligibility.
Volunteer lawyers from Latham & Watkins LLP*† have focused their efforts on meeting with young undocumented immigrants in San Diego and determining their eligibility for the DACA program. These meetings have been invaluable for Latham lawyers, as they have underscored the importance of equal access to justice to all members of society, including those living in the shadows.
Law students have also recognized the necessity of providing quality pro bono legal services to young, undocumented immigrants. Professors and students at the University of Texas School of Law created a partnership between the Law School’s Pro Bono Program and the Immigration Clinic in order to hold legal clinics for undocumented immigrants. The clinics, held in the Austin area, assist qualifying attendees in completing and filing applications for the program. The astounding success of these clinics has led the law school to partner with organizations in the Rio Grande Valley to serve young immigrants in the border region.
While immigration law is a new venture for many attorneys, they have quickly risen to the occasion and are well aware of what is at stake for many of the young men and women they are helping. As Ben Weinberg, pro bono partner at Dentons who volunteers with NIJC, stated: “These are people who are underground, coming out and saying we feel so strongly about working and being productive members of society that we’re going to shine a light on ourselves to the federal government that has the power to send them far away.”
Immigration will continue to be a hot button issue as Congress works to find a cohesive solution to assist all undocumented immigrants. To learn about immigration-related pro bono opportunities and developments, contact PBI.
* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project
** denotes a Signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono ChallengeSM