KIND was so pleased to honor The Walt Disney Company with the Innovation Award at this year’s 2016 gala in New York City. Disney began partnering with KIND almost two years ago in 2014, when the number of unaccompanied children coming to the U.S. was just starting to soar. That year, over 68,000 children fled their homes in Central America and made the dangerous journey to the U.S. seeking protection. When the numbers started reaching this historical high, KIND turned to the law firm and corporate community for help taking these children’s cases pro bono. This is when Disney really stepped up and offered their support. Karen Frederiksen, Associate General Counsel, was the driving force behind this pro bono effort within Disney, and along with Fabricio Lopez, Principal Counsel and one of Disney’s immigration specialists, geared up company-wide support for KIND and these children in need.
KIND is now the second biggest pro bono partnership program for Disney. At the very first training session over 75 volunteers showed up afterhours and, as Karen said, “That kind of enthusiasm has continued throughout our partnership, people are thrilled and honored to be doing pro bono work with KIND.” Disney not only has completed 10 cases and still has a number pending in Los Angeles, but now has expanded its partnership to New York. With Karen and Fabricio at the helm they are always looking for different and unique ways to expand their work with KIND, and above all else help more children in need.
KIND talked with Karen and Fabricio leading up to the gala and asked them about their dedication working on these kid’s cases and their partnership with KIND:
Karen: “I have to say it’s really all about the kids. And it is always a genuine pleasure anytime I have an opportunity to speak about KIND, and the tremendous support they have provided to our pro bono work here at Disney. With the exception of Fabricio, our lawyers generally do not have experience with immigration courts and laws. We immediately recognized the tremendous need for pro bono services for children fleeing the terrible circumstances in Central America, but we had so many questions about whether we could effectively help them. KIND was, and continues to be, an outstanding partner in every respect. From my perspective, that is absolutely key to the long-run and future success of our work representing these courageous and highly deserving children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Our Disney legal teams working on behalf of these children have questions such as ‘What is the best strategy at an upcoming hearing?’ and ‘What is the timing going to look like for our client?’ KIND has informed answers for us.”
Fabricio: “For every single case that has been completed, our Disney volunteers want to take on another one. That has been our experience with KIND cases. They have been great for us, and it’s amazing to see the positive result in these kids’ lives. When our teams finish a case they typically have the child over for a lunch or other celebration. That has been very emotional because our volunteers have seen these kids through quite a process, and they know what the children, and their sponsors, have been going through.”
Karen: “We do a lot of pro bono work here at Disney, but I have to say that our sweet spot, clearly, is helping children. That’s the focus here at the company: doing our best for kids and their families.”
Karen: “This is really the time for in-house lawyers to step up to the plate regarding pro bono work. Of course, this must be in a way that works for us, given the hectic, fast-paced schedules that in-house lawyers face and the fact we don’t have the large infrastructure that most law firms have. But, it has been an incredibly rewarding journey to learn how much we as in-house lawyers can contribute and accomplish in the pro bono space. In that regard, I really would like to applaud KIND and other well-organized non-profits for taking the time to work with in-house lawyers, because the need for the services that we can provide from our in-house legal departments is profound. We all just need to do a better job of connecting the dots, and matching resources to need.”
Fabricio: “There was a young girl who was abused by her family. When I met her she said she wanted to become a psychiatrist, and when I learned more about her past, I thought ‘wow, she has been through so much – and was in a horrible situation – and yet now all she wants to do is to help other people.’ It made me think that this is what this is all about: helping kids, who will then go on to help other kids. It is great.”
Karen: “The KIND clients have been through so much – we are only seeing them in a limited context, but we are able to engage in a lot of meaningful conversations with these children and have come to learn how uniformly positive, smart and engaged they are. It would be so easy for some to be disgruntled or tuned out, but that’s the opposite of what we have seen. These kids from Central America have some real challenges ahead of them in the United States, even after they receive a green card, but they still are very, very positive. When you see how motivated they are to work hard and improve their situation, you can only conclude one thing: it’s such a privilege to assist them in any way. Our Disney volunteers are greatly moved by their KIND clients. ”
Karen: “You read headlines everyday of refugees all over the world who are in dire distress. I feel like you have a couple of options. One is to sit back and feel sorry for them, but see this as someone else’s problem. Or, you can take action in some positive way. KIND provided us in the legal group at Disney with an alternative. A way to take action with respect to children coming to our country after running from their homeland under some of the most horrific circumstances imaginable. With KIND’s help, we learned we could provide concrete, meaningful help to such children, even with our demanding jobs and our busy home lives. That’s really a hat’s off to KIND and its talented lawyers and staff.”
Fabricio: “To me, it reminds me that we take for granted what we do on a daily basis, and then you realize that kid here in this situation would have to appear before a judge, and face an immigration process alone. How challenging that would be? How fundamentally unfair would that be? It reminds me of how important our roles as lawyers are. I’m sure most of us when we went to law school had the idea of ‘I’m going to be a lawyer because I’m going to make a difference.’ Now, we have a chance to do just that. KIND has given us the opportunity to make a meaningful and positive difference.”
Fabricio: “One more element that is important. If these kids had to appear in court without a lawyer there is very little chance they would be able to stay in this country. We have seen the numbers and the statistics, but really, even for lawyers, appearing before an immigration judge can be intimidating. Then you think if I were not here, this child would be on his or her own. Some of what we provide in these KIND cases is standing side-by-side with a child and holding their hand through this legal morass.”