Pro Bono Attorney Coordination
Adult Representation Project
ImmDef coordinates with attorneys across Southern California who volunteer to represent recently arrived immigrant children facing possible deportation. This coordination expands our capacity and helps fulfill the huge need for legal representation among unaccompanied children who since 2014 have been arriving alone mainly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to escape uncontrolled gang violence, abuse and neglect. When they arrive in the United States, these children face automatic deportation proceedings, but they are entitled to go before an immigration
judge to plead their case. They may qualify for immigration relief through asylum or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). However, the process is complex and impossible to navigate without a lawyer, and the need for legal help exceeds the capacity of local non-profit organizations, like ImmDef, that do this work. Pro Bono lawyers can step in to fill the gap.
ImmDef provides training and mentorship for these processes, or refers to existing training seminars. There are also opportunities to observe proceedings if the pro bono attorney wants the chance.
Pro bono attorneys working with ImmDef advocate for their clients with agency offices and in immigration court. Their cases are usually on parallel tracks: clients are in deportation proceedings, but they are also applying for SIJS before various tribunals or asylum with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Attorneys in asylum cases are responsible for attending master calendar hearings in immigration court, filing continuances, and keeping the immigration judge abreast of developments with the case while it is pending with USCIS. They work with the client to develop their asylum application, collect supporting evidence, and brief their legal claim for asylum. They also accompany their clients to the asylum interview and answer questions about the proceedings. Asylum interviews for children are scheduled with priority, so pro bono attorneys can expect to have an interview scheduled within months of filing an application.
Pro bono attorneys working on SIJS cases advocate for their clients in front of different tribunals. The process begins in California State probate court, where attorneys accompany clients through a guardianship proceeding. During the process, attorneys petition for court orders of factual findings required to pursue SIJS. After receiving them, attorneys file applications for SIJS with USCIS.
They also represent their clients in immigration court throughout the proceedings to advise the court on the status of the case. When USCIS approves a SIJS application, they move to end the deportation. Finally, they prepare and submit the clients’ applications for Legal Permanent Residency and prepare clients for their interviews. The entire process can last 9-15 months, depending on the issues and USCIS processing times.
Guardian Ad Litem
For attorneys interested in helping out, but unsure whether they want to make the full commitment of accepting an SIJS or asylum case, we are also seeking attorneys to serve as Guardians ad Litem in state court for SIJS cases. This involves 1-2 meetings with the client and a single court appearance, but it is essential to the family court process. It can also be a good way for pro bono attorneys to “get their feet wet” on SIJS cases prior to committing to a full case.
If you are an attorney and are interested in Pro Bono work with ImmDef, please email Laura Olmos at