Big Law attorneys will work with outside groups to provide pro-bono representation for immigrants detained in federal raids of food processing plants in Mississippi.
Attorneys from Kirkland & Ellis, Kilpatrick Townsend, Wilkie Farr & Gallagher, Greenberg Traurig, and seven other firms are just getting started. They’ll receive training, mentoring and supervision, and will work remotely to help detainees secure bond.
“When we’re talking about immigrants who are detained, it’s far more difficult to access legal counsel,” said Traci Feit Love, founder and executive director of the Lawyers for Good Government Foundation, a progressive non-profit. “Without legal representation, due process becomes nearly impossible.”
The group is coordinating the pro-bono project that also involves Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc.
Nearly 700 people were detained in a series of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on Mississippi poultry processing plants in August as part of an ongoing work site enforcement criminal investigation, according to the agency. ICE described them at the time as “removable aliens who were unlawfully working at the plants.”
ICE said 303 immigrants were released within 24 hours, and numerous others were transferred to the U.S. Marshals Service to await criminal trials. Several hundred remain in ICE custody, and Feit Love said about 100 have requested pro bono counsel.
The American Immigration Council, a non-profit rights organization, found in 2016 that 37 percent of all immigrants secured legal representation in their deportation cases. Of those in detention, 14 percent were able to get legal help.
“The big part of the challenge is that these raids take place in places where there is not a high quantity of attorneys,” said Feit Love.
“My hope is that through this project we can build out the infrastructure necessary to provide this big scale bond representation in other contexts going forward,” said Feit Love. “We expect that this kind of enforcement is going to continue and ramp up.”
Kirkland & Ellis has worked with the Lawyers for Good Government Foundation since 2017.
Jacqueline Haberfeld, Kirkland’s New York Pro Bono Counsel, said the partnership has allowed her to find meaningful pro bono work for attorneys at the firm who want to respond to the immigration crisis on the Southern Border.
What sets the latest bond representation project apart, she said, is the scale of pro bono support.
“It is yielding a structure that will enable us to rapidly respond to immigration-related legal needs anywhere in the U.S., as long as we can find a partner on the ground,” she said.
The remote bond representation project only addresses the first portion of the detainees’ legal needs.
Haberfeld stressed the high need for attorneys willing and able to do pro bono immigration work throughout the United States.
“If successful, the bond representations will get them out of detention. They will still have need for full representation in their underlying merits cases,” said Haberfeld. “If there are lawyers who feel capable of learning this law and taking on full representation, that effort is desperately needed.”
The Lawyers for Good Government and the Lawyers for Good Government Foundation were founded in response to President Donald Trump’s election. They tap attorney volunteers to “coordinate and mobilize quickly in defense of democratic institutions, individuals at risk, and ‘good government’ principles.”
Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) was established 30 years ago by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to support a rapidly growing network of community-based immigration programs.