An interview with Nirupa Narayan, KIND’s Senior Director of Pro Bono Partnerships
KIND has the country’s largest pro bono program for unaccompanied children in the country. To learn more about KIND’s pro bono work, we spoke with Nirupa Narayan, KIND’s Senior Director of Pro Bono Partnerships.
Why is pro bono important for KIND clients?
Pro bono allows us to serve more children and expand our reach and impact. The core of KIND’s mission is to ensure that as many children as possible have legal representation in immigration court, and our pro bono program helps us achieve this mission by allowing us to provide more representation to children.
The majority of our cases are placed with pro bono lawyers. We currently work with over 4,000 pro bono attorneys who are working on cases across the country providing legal representation to child clients. They are generally not immigration attorneys, but KIND provides all necessary training and guidance, and the private sector brings their own resources and legal expertise.
How does KIND find and work with pro bono attorneys? What experience is needed?
We work closely with our pro bono partners to recruit lawyers within their organizations and raise awareness of our work to attract individual attorneys and forge new partnerships. We work with large law firms and corporate legal departments and their pro bono leads to conduct trainings and presentations and then attorneys who are interested in KIND can attend those trainings and volunteer for a case after learning more about KIND. We also send available cases to those pro bono leads at law firms and corporations that match their interests and then they help disseminate those available cases to their legal department. Also, each KIND office sends a weekly email to their current pro bono attorneys and any other interested attorneys that includes available cases, upcoming trainings, and immigration updates.
Through our communications work, we help raise awareness about KIND, for example by posting on LinkedIn about our pro bono attorneys during pro bono week in October. Word of mouth is also important and helps us find individual attorneys. Sometimes lawyers hear about a volunteer who has worked on an unaccompanied child’s case and had a really good experience, and then they want to get involved too. We also have a lot of pro bono attorneys come to us wanting to get involved because they are motivated by stories of unaccompanied and separated children that they hear in the news. The family separation crisis, for example, motivated a lot of people to get involved in KIND’s work.
Once someone takes a case, we provide comprehensive guidance to our pro bono attorneys from start to finish of the case. No prior immigration experience is needed. Our pro bono program is designed to work with attorneys that have not handled this type of case before. We have guidance materials, trainings, samples, and each pro bono attorney or team is assigned a KIND attorney who guides them through the process, provides these materials, and answers questions. We are the resource to make sure that each pro bono attorney has everything they need to successfully represent their unaccompanied child client.
What impact have you seen pro bono attorneys have on clients? How do attorneys change through the process?
Pro bono attorneys helping their clients obtain legal status in the United States is lifechanging for the children that we serve. Many of the pro bono attorneys that we work with develop long term relationships with their clients, serving as mentors and trusted adults in the children’s lives. Many of our pro bono attorneys stay in touch with their clients, attend graduations and weddings, and keep in touch over the years to hear news of clients having families and their own children. This shows how much of an impact they had in their clients’ lives. I’ve heard numerous pro-bono attorneys say that this has been the most important work that they’ve done as a lawyer and share stories of the incredible impact it has had on them.
Our over 4,000 pro bono attorneys also serve as ambassadors to KIND’s work within their networks. They often speak about their work with KIND and unaccompanied children with their family, friends, others in their community. There is a lot of misinformation related to the border and immigrants, and so having people who normally would not intersect with our work learn about it from our pro bono attorneys also helps raise awareness and increases our impact as an organization, which in turn helps our clients. In this way, our pro bono attorneys are extremely impactful beyond the individual representation that they’re providing.
Our pro bono attorneys come from all different types of practices and backgrounds. It’s very heartening for me to have this diverse group of people get involved and want to put their time and energy into helping unaccompanied and separated children.
Can you tell us more about the collaborations between KIND and our pro bono partners?
We have had a lot of collaborations between law firms and corporations working together to represent unaccompanied children. For example, we had a collaboration with Amazon and a law firm to represent children in several cities, and they took nearly 30 cases. A lot of in-house counsel from corporations are really interested in getting involved in our work, and we can pair them with a law firm that has worked with KIND so that they can learn from that law firm’s experience of working with unaccompanied children and have that additional support in handling their case. This year we have also had several collaborations between law firms and corporations to prepare humanitarian parole applications for families that were separated under Trump’s zero tolerance policy.
We also have a strong collaboration with a law firm and corporation in New York, where every year, they take a large number of cases during their week of service and then work on the cases together. To date they have taken over 50 cases.
Why is this work important to you personally? How have you been impacted by it?
It has been incredible to see the impact of KIND’s pro bono program. On the individual case level, when an attorney takes on the case, it is incredible to know that that child has legal representation and is not going to be alone in their proceedings. Seeing the impact that the experience has had on the pro bono attorneys has impacted me as well, because you see people from all different walks of life—including people you may not expect—become champions of this work and very invested in it. We can get stuck within our own bubbles or echo chambers, and KIND’s pro bono program expands across these divisions and involves so many different people. The fact that these individuals are willing to spend their time and energy in this way has shown me that that everyone can make a difference. There are so many difficult things happening in the world these days. To see so many people willing to help is really reassuring.
What is your vision for the future of this work?
KIND continues to expand our work to serve more children in need. Now we’re in 17 U.S. cities, including new offices in Orlando and Hartford, and have expanded internationally in Mexico and Europe. My vision for KIND and the pro bono program is to continue to have the maximum impact that we can through our pro bono partnerships to serve as many children as possible and leverage those partnerships in a way that will continue to serve KIND’s vision of ensuring every child on the move has access to legal counsel and has their rights and well-being protected as they seek protection.