In October, Fragomen sent a contingent of fifteen professionals—13 attorneys (seven of whom are partners) and two paralegals—to provide pro bono legal services for a full week at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas. This facility serves as a detention center for immigrant families (women and children), mostly from Central America. The Fragomen team was on site from Sunday, October 22 through Friday, October 27.
Pro bono legal services at the facility in Dilley are coordinated by the Dilley Pro Bono Project, a partner in the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project established jointly by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the American Immigration Council, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The Dilley facility—which, with a capacity of 2,400, is the largest immigrant detention center in the United States—detains exclusively women and children. It is run by CoreCivic, previously called the Corrections Corporation of America, under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). CoreCivic is a for-profit corporation that owns and manages private prisons and detention centers across the United States.
Fragomen is one of the few Am Law 100 firms which has a mandatory pro bono requirement for all attorneys. Effective January 1, 2015, the firm has required all attorneys to spend a minimum of 50 hours per year on pro bono matters. Because of the firm’s single focus on immigration law, most Fragomen attorneys take on cases involving deportation, asylum, special immigrant juvenile status, or applications for humanitarian immigration benefits such as visas for crime victims or victims of human trafficking.
Fragomen Partner Lisa Koenig, a member of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee, said, “This is the third year in a row that Fragomen has sent a large group of attorneys and paralegals to serve as the sole volunteers for an entire week in Dilley. We have also had smaller groups and individual attorneys volunteer there on an ad hoc basis over the course of the last three years. We estimate the value of the free legal services this year’s contingent will provide at close to half a million dollars.”
Barbara Camacho, Fragomen’s Pro Bono Counsel, is leading this year’s effort. “In Dilley our attorneys prepare detained women for their ‘credible fear interviews’ in which they must demonstrate to an Asylum Officer that they have a credible fear of persecution if they were forced to return to their home countries,” said Ms. Camacho. “Only once the women surmount that hurdle are they eligible for release from detention. The women will then be put into deportation proceedings and will have to appear in an Immigration Court near wherever they end up living in the United States.”
The immigrant detention center in Dilley was established in late 2014, after the government shut down a short-term, makeshift facility in Artesia, New Mexico which had been opened to detain some of the large influx of asylum seekers from Central America that began to appear at the U.S.-Mexico border that year.
The Fragomen professionals volunteering in Dilley this year are Barbara Camacho (Pro Bono Counsel, New York); Samuel Chow (Associate, New York); Kirsten Corneliussen (Associate, Troy); Rómulo Guevara (Associate, Silicon Valley); Janet Henner (Partner, New York); Ethan Kaufman (Partner, New York); Alexandra LaCombe (Partner, Troy); Iris Lopez (Paralegal, New York); Julie Muniz (Partner, New York); Catherine Perez (Paralegal, New York); Jannette Sanchez (Associate, Chicago); Cynthia Shearn (Partner, Chicago); Hugh Thistlethwaite (Partner, New York); Michael Turansick (Partner, Chicago); and Rebecca van Uitert (Associate, Chicago).