What’s It like to Volunteer for the Immigration Justice Campaign?
Volunteers join the Immigration Justice Campaign for lots of reasons – to give time to a cause they care about, to learn more about immigration law, to do meaningful work in retirement, and many more. No matter what brings them to the Justice Campaign, they usually find that the work becomes personal. Read on to learn the stories of two volunteers.
Henry Hollithron is an attorney in Denver, CO. He became inspired to practice immigration law as a child, when his mom would take him to her work as an interpreter in the immigration courts.
Henry joined the Immigration Justice Campaign in 2019 and has celebrated wins with three clients so far – men from Cuba, Togo, and Cameroon. He has found the work to be extremely rewarding, and sometimes extremely unpredictable. Over one dramatic weekend, he found himself submitting an emergency stay of deportation for a client.
“On Friday evening I got a call from a friend of his and he was like, ‘Where is this guy?” says Henry. “And that’s how I learned he’d been sent to a deportation staging center in Louisiana.” The friend had happened to call the detention center where the man was being held, only to find him missing.
Henry later heard that the client told ICE at 2 a.m. (when several officers came to load him onto the plane) that he wanted to speak with his lawyer. “They said, ‘Okay, we’ll call him,’ but they didn’t.” Henry would never have known the client had been moved if the friend hadn’t called the detention center at just the right time. Henry and his assistant worked all day Saturday to put together the stay motion, and finally submitted it at 2 a.m. on Sunday. The motion was granted just in time, and the man was taken off the plane that had been set to deport him.
Fortunately, the man’s friend outside of detention had happened to give him a call that day. Many people in detention, having left their lives behind to seek safety, are even more isolated. They do not have a right to free legal representation and thus have little to no hope of presenting the facts and arguments to meet the complex asylum standard. “So often, we lawyers are their sole contact with the outside world, their only voice before the massive federal bureaucracy,” says Henry. “And those who do not yet have a lawyer are deprived of that hope, that contact, that voice.”
Read the rest of Henry’s story here.
Amanda Kernan is an attorney in Puerto Rico. She worked in litigation for several years before coming to the Immigration Justice Campaign.
Amanda joined the Justice Campaign in December 2021, working with a man who had faced political persecution in Nicaragua. Working entirely remotely from Puerto Rico, she arranged a medical evaluation, obtained multiple witness statements from abroad, and wrote a compelling legal brief. In March, she and the client celebrated his win.
Amanda found that communication in detention was not always straightforward. “It was often very difficult,” she says. “The legal line at the detention center didn’t work, and the only time we were ever able to actually hear each other was when the detention officers would let us speak on their line, which they’re not supposed to do.”
The system is not set up to facilitate communication for people who don’t speak English. Interpreters are not guaranteed. “The government said to us at the end of the hearing, ‘Thank you for laying it out so clearly,’” Amanda said. “I think because I told his story in English they were literally able to understand it, and all they needed was to find him credible, which they did. So I think the language barrier is really difficult for most people.”
Even though Amanda didn’t speak Spanish, she and the client were able to form a bond. “We still email with each other. He’s in Georgia now,” she says. “There’s definitely a relationship that we formed.”
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The American Immigration Council warns non-citizens to guard against spoofing phone calls from ill-intended individuals seeking to create panic among our immigrant community. To learn more, please go to scam.immigrationcouncil.org.