Pro Bono at the Border and Beyond

Lawyers are stepping up to meet a need once again, as the pro bono community has been mobilizing on the behalf of those in DHS custody along the border. There has been an amazing response by pro bono lawyers to address issues from family detention to reunification, arising from the separation of families at the United States’ borders. PBI reached out to Ellyn Josef of Vinson & Elkins*† and Karen Grisez of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson*† to discuss their work at the border and beyond and how others can get involved.

Where and what is the greatest need?

KG: The greatest need for direct service right now is near the border at the places families are being apprehended and detained. Right now, those are the Karnes and Dilley detention facilities. Both are near San Antonio and are holding families detained together, as well as some women whose children have been taken away from them and put into ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement) custody.

There is also a need for representation of separated children in their own cases. Many of those children have been moved to other parts of the country. Some of the moms have already been deported and the goal may be reunification with them. Spanish speakers are particularly needed for these cases.

There are other needs for systemic litigation as well as policy work, developing country conditions materials, expert declarations, etc. It is expected that remote work in support of the direct representation teams on the ground will also be needed soon.

EJ: We are deep in the organizing and piloting right now, and things are really in flux. Even where the most need is changes by the day. Right now, I think the great need is going to be in Credible Fear Interview (CFI) prep, bond hearings, and asylum.  It looks like we will be back to long family detention, like in the early days of Karnes and Dilley, so bond hearings and asylum all over the country will be very important.

I’m not licensed in or located in Texas, how can I help?

KG: Not being licensed in Texas isn’t a problem to volunteer there. Representation in immigration matters requires only being admitted to the bar of the highest court of any state or D.C. It is a federal system so you don’t need to be admitted in the local jurisdiction.

Note: All types of opportunities are available for work in this space.

I’m not an immigration lawyer, is there anything I can do?

KG: Trainings are being put together now in jurisdictions all over the country to help equip lawyers not experienced in this subject matter. You are WAY BETTER than a pro se person and can definitely learn enough to make a difference. One Justice is putting together a website with all these trainings listed and APBCO members are sharing info at the local levels too.

EJ: There is a training on  in Austin that will be livestreamed and recorded on CFI and bond hearings that we are sharing far and wide, so we will have a cadre of lawyers ready to go.  I would encourage people to find trainings on bond and asylum.


Thank you to Ellen and Karen for taking the time to speak with us on this important issue. If you are looking to get involved, there are many resources available , such as:

Have you been volunteering in this space? Do you have a recommendation on how to get involved? Leave us a comment!