Frequently Asked Questions for Prospective Volunteers | CLINIC

Frequently Asked Questions for Prospective Volunteers

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1) What is the BIA Pro Bono Project?

The Project is a unique collaborative effort of five non-governmental organizations and the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).  The Project, which seeks to increase the level of representation to detained and non-detained immigrants with case appeals before the BIA, is coordinated by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) and supported by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the American Immigration Council (AIC), the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG), and the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition.  Volunteer attorneys screen and summarize cases each week at the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).  The case descriptions circulated to potential pro bono counsel are based on these experts’ review of the record of proceedings that took place before the Immigration Judge.

2) Who does the Project help?

We are a pro bono project that works mainly with detainees and non-detainees who were pro se (unrepresented) before the immigration judge and now their case is on appeal before the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).   Either they lost the case before the Immigration Judge (IJ) and appealed, or they won the case before the IJ, and the government appealed.

More specifically, the project concentrates on finding representation for four types of individuals: (1) asylum-seekers, (2) minors, (3) individuals who received a favorable decision by an Immigration Judge that was subsequently appealed by the government, and (4) persons with a case in which the Immigration Judge requested certification of his/her decision from the BIA. All cases involve individuals who were not represented before the Immigration Judge, and who remain pro se before the BIA.

3) What does the attorney need to do?

i.    Each week we distribute new cases of individuals who need representation for their appeal.  Contact the CLINIC BIA Pro Bono Project coordinator if you have questions about a case or would like to volunteer for a particular case.  After the case is assigned to you, CLINIC will get consent from the respondent, which can take a week or two.  If we do not get consent, we will be happy to assign you a new one.  Once you receive the consent packet, you will file your entry of appearance (Form EOIR-27) with the Board.

ii.    Once the Board receives the EOIR-27, it will send you a full copy of the record of proceedings.  This is unique to our project and will not happen with other Board appeals.  Normally you would have to do a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request, or dig up the information yourself, so receiving a copy of the record is one significant advantage of participating in our project, rather than doing a Board appeal on your own.  The Board will also send you a briefing schedule, typically set 3 weeks from the time your EOIR-27 was received.   You have the option of filing for an extension, which the Board will always grant.  If it does not, let us know and we will intervene to get the extension.  The extension is for an additional 3 weeks, so you will have a total of 6 weeks to write the brief, if you request the extension.  We will send you a sample extension request.

iii.    Next, you write your brief. The Board prefers concise briefs that are about 15-20 pages long.  You file one copy with the Board and send one to the opposing counsel (DHS).  Other than keeping in touch with CLINIC and updating the respondent, that’s all there is to it.

4) Do I need immigration law experience to volunteer?

The pro bono attorney needs to have a background in Immigration law, strong litigation/writing experience, or a background in appellate litigation. You need to have an active license to practice law in any U.S. state.  You do not need to practice or be licensed in the same state as the respondent.  We also work with law school clinics.

5) Do I need to meet with the client in-person?

No, many volunteer attorneys communicate with their client over the phone or through the mail.  You do not need to practice or be licensed in the same state as the respondent. 

6) Do I need to be licensed in the state of the respondent?

No, you do not need to practice or be licensed in the same state as the respondent. You do need to be registered as an attorney with EOIR prior to submitting your Form EOIR-27. Instructions for registering with EOIR can be found here:

7) What sorts of costs are connected to writing an appeal?

The notice of appeal was already filed by the respondent, so there are no filing fees for your brief or any extension requests.  The only costs to you will be the FedEx/mailing costs you incur.  That said, if you wish to file a motion to reopen or reconsider in the future, there will be filing fees. How do I sign up?

Please fill out the form here and the Project Coordinator will get in touch with you.

8) Do the procedures differ from the BIA practice manual?

i.    Yes, the procedure through the BIA Pro Bono Project differs slightly. Therefore, the volunteer should always check with us when they have procedural questions to make sure everything is routed to the proper person/office at the Board.

ii.    Specifically, the briefing schedule will be reset for cases through the project and the attorney will get a photocopy of the entire record. 

9) How do I learn more about Board appeals?

i.    EOIR’s virtual law library has an excellent manual, with sample pages and full procedural instructions.

ii.    The procedure through the BIA Pro Bono Project differs slightly. Therefore, a volunteer should always check with us for answers to procedural questions to make sure everything is routed to the proper person/office at the Board.

10) Does CLINIC cover me in the case of malpractice?

Yes, CLINIC maintains umbrella coverage for the volunteers who take an appeals case through our pro bono project. 

11) How long does the process take from start to finish?

The good thing about our project is that the timing is predictable.  It will take CLINIC a week or two to get consent from the Respondent.  You would then file the E-27.  Within a week or so, the Board will send you the record of proceeding and a new briefing schedule.  You have three weeks to write the brief, and an additional three weeks if you request an extension.  Therefore, you should be done with your part within 2-3 months.

12) When do we get the decision back from the Board?

It can vary---anywhere from 3 to 6 months; sometimes as long as a year or more!  The Board is faster with detained cases than non-detained cases, and decisions on cancellation of removal tend to come out more quickly than other cases.  Asylum/withholding/CAT cases with controversial issues can sometimes take a lot longer, especially if the Board isn’t sure how it wants to deal with the case (and they all sometimes have to agree on the direction they will take), or if the Board is considering publishing the case.

13) What happens if the respondent already filed a brief?

It’s not a problem.  The Board will keep the respondent’s brief and put it in the record of proceeding.  However, your brief will trump theirs.  The Board knows this is a BIA Pro Bono Project case and that we are finding an attorney for the respondent.  The Board will consider your brief when adjudicating the case.

14) What about legal support?

CLINIC provides mentorship and guidance throughout the BIA appeal process.

15) Do you have sample briefs?

Yes we do!  We have been collecting them for over 11 years and have a good variety of samples.  We do not make the bank publically available, but we can send you samples on any given topic that you desire.  Most of our volunteers find the sample briefs very helpful.

1)      What is the BIA Pro Bono Project?