KIND is proudly honoring Paul Hastings with the Founders Award at this year’s annual gala Coming Together for Children Alone. Paul Hastings has been one of our longest partners over the past six years and continues to take on cases representing some of the most vulnerable children through their immigration proceedings. Kurt Hansson, Global Vice-Chairman of Paul Hastings’ Litigation Department, will be accepting the award on behalf of the firm on April 22nd in New York City. KIND recently interviewed Mr. Hansson and asked him why taking on these cases pro bono is so important.
Let me start with my relationship with KIND. Since its inception, I have been involved with both individual KIND matters as well as the issues that affect the children and families we represent. KIND has always provided us with tremendous support and guidance; without the mentoring from the KIND coordinators, we could not have handled the number of matters we have as successfully as we have. KIND is our quintessential pro bono partner organization, and Wendy Young is a leader in every sense of the word. She is expertly knowledgeable about the issues affecting children, she is compassionate and principled, and she is thoroughly committed to providing support and opportunities for the children in our society who are most vulnerable. It is because of Wendy and the entire staff of KIND that our firm’s commitment to KIND has only grown deeper and stronger through the years.
What resonates most for me is the fact that without KIND and the pro bono assistance it secures from volunteer attorneys, more children would be forced to face our legal system alone and without representation. This should be, and for many of us is, simply unacceptable in our society today. We all have a responsibility to protect those who cannot protect themselves. The legal landscape surrounding asylum and other potentially available forms of relief is daunting for experienced attorneys, let alone for those who are very young, do not speak the language, and who are unfamiliar with our system of justice. These children do not have the ability to navigate the complex issues they need to in order to establish their potential right to be here in this country. And certainly they have no capacity to fend off trained government attorneys in our adversary system. The system we have is simply not set up to appropriately address and resolve the very basic needs of children. So what resonates most for me is the responsibility I feel I have to continue to seek solutions to this entrenched injustice.
I want to be sure to be mindful of both confidentiality and individual privacy, but we handled a matter that was particularly compelling to me and our office. Prior to KIND referring this case to us, attorneys pursuing Single Immigrant Juvenile Status on behalf of a brother and sister came across a particularly biased, even hostile, family court judge. The judge refused to make the findings he was legally required to make, and in denying relief for these two children he made several inflammatory comments on the record. Now, from a legal perspective, appeals always present difficulties. But when the potential success of an appeal hinges on taking on a trial court judge directly, it is even more problematic. So, I won’t take the credit for our having ultimately prevailed in the cases for both children. That goes to one of our newest partners and the excellent associates he had working with him. But having discussed the matter and considered our strategic options on many occasions throughout, I learned that the issues surrounding immigration – and particularly those affecting children and their families – are not only difficult but are emotionally charged as well.
Well, this is of course a very difficult issue for me to address as my personal experience can only be considered anecdotal. But there are certain realities that we must take into account in order to better understand why children choose to embark on such a difficult and perilous journey just to reach our country. First, it seems clear that the violence, and particularly the gang violence, in certain Central American countries has gotten worse. Until the root causes of the violence are effectively identified and remedied, the influx will continue. Children who have no opportunities and no path by which to avoid danger will sometimes seek to emigrate. Further, many children have family members, close family members, who are in this country. In these cases, it is hard to blame the children for trying to rejoin their loved ones.
I have been practicing law for approximately 30 years now. I have always been engaged in problem-solving on behalf of my clients, business and pro bono clients alike. I think one of my strengths is in analyzing situations comprehensively so that I can pursue my clients’ interests as best I can. Personally, I of course empathize and care for the children and families we represent. The lesson I have learned throughout my career, however, is that problems need to be confronted and solutions need to be found. So many of us have the ability to search for and find solutions to the myriad of issues facing the children we represent. We need to be focused and think innovatively and expansively to find them.
My best experience has probably been with the very first client KIND referred to us over six years ago, and who we continue to represent and assist today. While she is now a young adult, she came to us as all of the children do. She was vulnerable, unsure as to what exactly was happening to her, and she was clearly traumatized by her experiences in El Salvador and her journey to this country. Our client is no longer in removal proceedings, yet we continue to pursue all possible avenues to secure legal status for her. We have every hope and belief that we will ultimately be successful for her.
For anyone who might be considering taking on a case from KIND, I would of course say – unhesitatingly – please do so. KIND will support you in every way, and you will see the incredible difference that you can and will make in the lives of a child and his or her family. I would also say that the issues affecting these children and their families go beyond individual representation. Whether it is advocating for more financial support so as to provide legal representation for children or whether it is seeking to better understand the impact that proposed legislative reforms may have on children and families, it is important that we all continue to learn and commit ourselves to being heard as these issues evolve.
I did not have any experience of representing an unaccompanied child prior to our firm’s becoming involved with KIND. We are grateful to KIND for providing us with the encouragement, the opportunity and the support that it has.
In my view, life is simply too short not to be engaged in some of the most controversial issues of our day. As a society, we have the responsibility to address the plight of unaccompanied children compassionately and in a way that reflects our values. At a minimum, children should have the right to be represented by counsel in removal proceedings. And, as Wendy Young has taught me, we should insist that children in such proceedings are treated as children first and as immigrants second. We need to focus on the unique needs and the best interests of children so that just determinations become possible.