Kids in Need of Defense Honors Volunteers Who Aid Separated Children

November 9, 2020

Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) is honoring outstanding pro bono attorneys who are providing vital legal services to refugee and immigrant children who were separated from a parent at the U.S.-Mexico border. KIND’s pro bono attorneys serve as the heart of KIND’s mission and go above and beyond to help unaccompanied children. The children taken from their parents present unprecedented challenges that our pro bono attorneys took on without hesitation and with compassion, skill, and incredible dedication.

Children and families who come to KIND are among the most vulnerable in our society. Many have fled life-threatening violence, including gang and narco-violence in their home countries in Central America, and come to the United States in hopes of finding safety. They are not provided an attorney in their removal proceedings; without counsel, it is nearly impossible for them to navigate the U.S. immigration system. Children who were separated from a parent at the border are extraordinarily vulnerable. Their lawyers are these children’s lifeline to safety and protection.

“I could not be more pleased to honor our volunteers who truly live KIND’s mission – to protect unaccompanied children in their journey to safety,” said KIND President Wendy Young. “KIND’s volunteers are these children’s lifeline, providing legal assistance, interpretation, and other crucial support, as well as simply being a trusted and caring adult in the child’s life. These children have been through so much in their young lives, many fleeing violence and other danger, and KIND’s volunteers stand with them to help them access the protection they so need and deserve.”

Last year, KIND received over 175,000 hours and $103 million in pro bono legal services, bringing its total for pro bono services to more than 880,000 hours and $475 million in pro bono services since 2009. KIND’s pro bono legal volunteers do not need immigration experience. The organization provides expert training and mentorship for the duration of the cases. Attorneys who volunteer with KIND work directly with our child clients and gain valuable courtroom experience among other skills. Nearly all say that the most valuable part of their experience was getting to know the child clients and helping to change the trajectory of the child’s life.

KIND is thrilled to honor our 2020 family separation volunteers and thank them for their service to unaccompanied children:

Zoee Powers, Radler White Parks & Alexander LLP

Zoee represents a mother and daughter, 14, who were separated at the border in June 2018. She has been an outstanding pro bono attorney and extremely proactive about preparing the case. Zoee is a committed, thorough, and passionate advocate, who is always thoughtful about how she should be doing more for her clients.

“In the many hours we spent preparing declarations, one of the most powerful things was to be able to bear witness to what my clients have experienced. Of course the legal work is important, but it was striking to me how important it was to my clients, on a human level, to be seen, to tell their story to the world, or at least to tell that story to me and to our incredible volunteer interpreter, and ultimately to the court. There were definitely moments where we were all crying in the conference room. After months, my client said she wanted me to know that she “feels safe here” in this country, which is such a powerful statement  after all the trauma they have suffered both in Guatemala and being separated at the U.S. border, it would be reasonable to never feel safe again. I am honored to be able to do my small part to help her and her daughter find safety and a better life.”

Jessica A. Keesee, Meunier Carlin & Curfman LLC

Jessica represents Bonnie*, a 19-year-old from Guatemala who was separated from her father when she was still a child. Jessica has been very proactive and dedicated to her, ensuring Bonnie had access to all her rights.

“I felt compelled to volunteer as a pro bono attorney with KIND after hearing the horrible stories of families separated at the US-Mexico border. As a parent, I understand the drive and love that pushes you to do anything to keep your child safe.  After meeting Bonnie and her father, and hearing their story, I saw that love and it motivated me to work even harder on their behalf. After hearing Bonnie’s story and getting to know her, I am amazed by the strength of her spirit. It has been so humbling to work with Bonnie on this case. None of my work would be possible without my amazing colleague and interpreter, Wendy Ballew, who facilitated every phone call, coffee meeting, coaching session, and government interview. She is key to the trust and relationship we have built with Bonnie.  While Bonnie’s case is far from over, she is an amazing young woman and I can only hope that I have helped in some small way.”

Elizabeth Nielsen, Ina Popova, Julio Rivera Rios, Ashley Hahn, Katie Aber, Christian Clark, Bradley Polivka, Anna V. Balu, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP

The team has consistently gone far above and beyond in their zealous representation of their client, her two sons, and her niece who were all forcibly separated at the U.S. border under the Zero Tolerance policy. This pro bono team has been at the forefront of providing holistic representation while lifting their clients’ voices and experiences. The team took on all aspects of all the cases to ensure that they have superb representation.

“Our aspiration is that by working with KIND to protect the human rights of migrant families separated at the border, we can protect the international rule of law, which has been under relentless attack in recent years,” said Elizabeth Nielsen.  “The most vulnerable members of society deserve high quality legal representation, and it has been an honor to fight on their behalf with KIND.”

KIND’s presented its national 2020 awards to DLA Piper, Jones Day, and JP Morgan Chase. As dedicated KIND pro bono partners, these honorees have demonstrated in a variety of ways their extraordinary commitment to ensuring that unaccompanied children have a fair chance to make their case and are not returned to the very danger from which they fled.

We also honored pro bono attorneys in each of KIND’s offices around the country.