When and why did you first take a KIND case?
I took my first KIND case in early 2016 when I was a first-year associate starting my legal career at Covington & Burling LLP. I grew up internationally and spent a significant amount of time in South America where I worked with disadvantaged children and partnering with KIND was a natural extension of my previous non-legal work. KIND came into Covington’s D.C. office to offer SIJS and asylum training, and I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved in the mission of this amazing organization and devote time to protecting vulnerable children. After the training, I reached out to Covington’s pro bono coordinators, and the rest is history.
How many KIND cases have you taken?
So far, I’ve taken two SIJS cases with KIND, but I plan to take on many more in the future!
What have you learned from this experience or from your client?
I was able to start the SIJS journey with my client from the beginning and see it through to his receipt of a green card. This path is a long one, but you get there eventually. It’s important to prepare your client for the length of the process and set expectations upfront. It’s easy to become discouraged as months and years pass by waiting for a priority date to become current or for the government to process the relevant applications, but it’s imperative to help your client stay the course.
I also gained significant insight into the challenges that immigrant children face in Central America. My client was the victim of gang violence in Guatemala, and part of the evidence we presented to the D.C. Superior Court included a picture of scar down his chest inflicted by a gang member when my client refused to join a gang. My client’s ability to endure such traumatic events while still building a life for himself in the United States through education and hard work inspired me deeply.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the U.S. immigration system?
I have been continuously surprised by how inaccessible the U.S. immigration system can be to our clients. Immigrants are expected to navigate multiple court systems and agencies in their journey towards permanent residency, and these competing systems can be confusing even for the most experienced attorneys. The nature of our U.S. immigration system drives home the necessity of legal representation for the vulnerable.
What would you tell other attorneys to encourage them to take a KIND case?
The impact that we have on these children’s lives is tremendous. There is never a “right” time to take on pro bono work, especially as an attorney at a big law firm, but my KIND cases have been the most rewarding in my seven years of practicing law. I will never forget my client’s excitement and relief after obtaining custody and SIJS orders from the D.C. Superior Court, and, more recently, after receiving his green card in the mail. It’s moments like these that prompted me to become an attorney in the first place.
Do you have any advice for a new attorney taking their first pro bono case?
Dive right in! Working on a KIND case is a fantastic opportunity to learn by doing while being supported by an amazing team of KIND attorneys with deep expertise in this area. While it may feel daunting to take on work in an unfamiliar area, you will be supported at every step of the way. KIND provides you with all the background materials you need to get started and understand the laws and processes, and they are always a phone call away if you run into issues. This may also be one of the only opportunities you have to stand up in front of an immigration or superior court judge while you are a junior attorney. Do not underestimate the value of these kinds of experiences so early in your career.