Juan escaped his gang “family.” Pablo ran away from an abusive father who beat him. Beatriz was tired of living homeless and hungry.
Though the details of their individual journeys differ, by the time immigrant children reach the U.S.-Mexican border there is one thing they all have in common: “Hope for a second chance at a better life,” said Joanna Boisen, pro bono counsel at Davis Wright Tremaine.
These are three of the more than 520 open cases local law firms fought in 2018 with KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), a nonprofit co-founded by Microsoft president Brad Smith and actress Angelina Jolie that provides legal assistance to unrepresented children who have fled from dangerous situations.
DWT and 17 more of the 50 largest law firms on our List of the Puget Sound region’s largest law firms work with KIND to help represent the more than 60 percent of children arriving in the U.S. who have no representation in immigration court and are five times more likely to be deported.
KIND’s Seattle office has in-house attorneys, but it depends heavily on a wide network of outside pro bono attorneys and corporate legal departments, such as Amazon, to serve children that are in the care and custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in Washington state.
“The high quality pro bono legal representation provided by local legal firms is saving the lives of children who have experienced horrific violence and trauma,” said Janet Gwilym, the managing attorney at KIND’s Seattle office. “Representation opens doors for the children — ensuring that the children are heard, their due process rights are protected and, ultimately, the children are safe, secure and have the chance to flourish.”
Since October 2013, KIND’s Seattle office has provided legal services to more than 1,350 children in custody at the ORR. The lawyers work with children to obtain special immigrant juvenile status which allows them to stay in the U.S. lawfully.
Perkins Coie, the largest law firm in Washington, first partnered with KIND in 2003 and in 2018 the firm worked on at least 17 different KIND cases.
“KIND and its attorneys are on the front lines of a rapidly changing legal landscape,” said Ryan Mrazik, a partner at Perkins Coie who worked on KIND cases in 2018. “Their persistent efforts ensure that kids get the help they need and pro bono attorneys are equipped to provide these kids with the best representation they can.”
Attorneys at Pacifica Law Group are currently representing an unaccompanied minor from El Salvador. The juvenile fled due to gang violence in her community and the attorneys helped her navigate local family and immigration courts and apply for special immigrant juvenile status with the hope of being allowed to stay in the U.S. and eventually seek lawful permanent residency.
Meanwhile, the cases involving Juan, Pablo and Beatriz are ongoing, but DWT’s Boisen said their petitions for special immigrant juvenile status were recently filed, and is hopeful they’ll be granted lawful permanent residency.
“They all have strong cases,” she said.