September 2011 Volunteer Feature: Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP Provides Counsel to Detained New York Immigrants through an Innovative City Bar Justice Center Project
The City Bar Justice Center is pleased to recognize Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP for their extraordinary dedication and support of the Center's immigrant detention defense work.
For nearly two years the NYC Know Your Rights Project, a collaboration of the City Bar Justice Center, The Legal Aid Society and the NYC chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), operated a pro bono clinic for detained immigrants at the Varick ICE Detention Facility. Volunteer attorneys from participating law firms, including Orrick, conducted screening interviews and under the mentorship of immigration experts from AILA, determined whether immigration relief was available. They then advised the client and made appropriate referrals to pro bono (or "low bono") counsel. After the detention facility was closed in early 2010, the project adapted to the logistical changes in the system after consulting with participating law firms on the feasibility of attorneys providing extended pro bono representation in immigration court. Rene Kathawala, Pro Bono Counsel at Orrick and Scott Roehm, Orrick's pro bono fellow, were leaders in providing their insights on the challenges of law firm associates representing detained immigrants before the Immigration Court. Their advice was crucial to the launch of a representation pilot project in January of this year, in which law firm associates provide pro bono assistance to immigrants with strong equities and ties to New York applying for cancellation of their removal from the United States.
Under Rene's and Scott's guidance, Orrick generously donated the firm's technical assistance to the production of the project training materials, and turned out the largest number of attorneys in attendance at the training program. Further demonstrating the firm's commitment, Orrick litigation associate Daniel Kahn was the first volunteer to roll up his sleeves and take on one of the case referrals, with Rene and Scott providing Dan support and mentoring throughout. The client, Mr. S, is a young man who came to the United States from El Salvador as a Lawful Permanent Resident ("green card" holder) when he was seven years old. A recent arrest for a misdemeanor, leading to his transfer to immigration custody, could not have come at a worse time as Mr. S's mother was recently injured and could no longer work
The decision by the Immigration Judge to grant cancellation of removal came down to a weighing of the equities. Despite the fact that Mr. S had a prior felony on his record, he attended several drug and alcohol programs while in custody and, prior to that, had been holding two steady jobs to help pay his mother's bills. The client's evidence was bolstered by former employers indicating that they would consider hiring Mr. S if he was released, and preparation that Mr. S made while incarcerated for his reentry, including addressing prior drug convictions. In addition, Mr. S secured the assistance of an excellent country conditions expert who had specific knowledge of how citizens of El Salvador who resided in the United States for a long time are treated upon their return home, especially when they have little or no family there anymore. On August 29, 2011 after Dan represented Mr. S. at a hearing in the Immigration Court, Mr. S was granted cancellation of removal and was reunited with his family at the hearing
"After spending months in immigration custody, Mr. S will now get one last chance to make good on his mother's many sacrifices that gave him a life in this country," said Dan after the hearing. "I believe he will take full advantage.
The problem of lack of counsel in the Immigration Court has exploded in the last five years as the number of detained New Yorkers has tripled. According to the New York Times [i]mmigrants' fate in deportation cases often comes down to whether they can afford a lawyer. Immigrants with legal representation are at least five times as likely to win their cases as those without, yet in New York only 40 percent of detained immigrants have lawyers. Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens earlier this year addressed this topic stating "The need for legal representation for immigrants is really acute.
Since the Justice Center began addressing the lack of counsel for detained immigrants, Orrick has been a tireless partner and the firm's attorneys have consistently stepped up to the plate. The Justice Center is grateful for the work of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in addressing this glaring human rights abuse.