By: Wendy Rhein
Washington, DC (October 24, 2011) - The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) Pro Bono Project through which nearly 800 vulnerable immigrants have received free representation in their appellate cases. Washington DC law firm Fried Frank hosted the reception with special guests in attendance, including the Honorable Immigration Judge Paul Schmidt, Acting Director of EOIR Juan Osuna, and Acting Chairman of the BIA David Neal.
The BIA Project is one of the nation’s only pro bono immigration appeals projects. Founded in January 2001, the project matches unrepresented immigrants facing deportation with volunteer attorneys and law students. Drawing on its long-standing commitment to empower legal services providers through education and training, CLINIC mentors volunteer attorneys to take on meaningful pro bono appellate cases.
“In a system where individuals have no right to government appointed counsel, the BIA Pro Bono Project has been instrumental in ensuring that individuals’ rights and liberties are protected under the law and that cases posing important legal issues are presented fairly and competently on appeal,” said Maria M. Odom, CLINIC’s Executive Director. “We are proud of our contributions to this project; through training and mentoring we continue to increase and afford access to counsel for vulnerable and often detained individuals.”
Over the past ten years, the BIA Pro Bono Project has identified high-profile cases that have challenged existing laws and opened up avenues of relief from deportation for certain deserving individuals.
In a published study, the Department of Justice found that immigrants who had been provided representation through the Project were up to four times more likely to win a favorable decision before the BIA. CLINIC has succeeded in securing pro bono representation for nearly 800 respondents around the country – individuals who would not have otherwise had representation.
Project Coordinator Lauren Sullivan presented certificates of appreciation to the 10 volunteer screeners who devote countless hours every week screening cases for eligibility in the Project.
Also at the reception, CLINIC presented its 2011 Pro Bono award to the Georgetown University Law Center’s Appellate Litigation Center for its longstanding support of the Project. Along with their students, Professor Steven Goldblatt and his predecessors have represented almost 40 respondents through CLINIC’s Project. Because many of Georgetown’s alumni continue to volunteer after they graduate, the school’s involvement with the Project has had a ripple effect, providing some of our most qualified pro bono counsel.
The BIA Pro Bono Project is a collaborative effort of CLINIC and the Executive Office for Immigration Review. The founding partners are CLINIC, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Immigration Council, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and the Capitol Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.