Pro Bono Rank Firm
(Am Law 200 Rank)
Am Law
Pro Bono Score
Average Pro Bono
Hours Per Lawyer
% of Lawyers
With More Than 20 Hours
Crowell & Moring (91)


In May 2008 Crowell & Moring partner Susan Hoffman received an unexpected call from longtime pro bono collaborator Leslye Orloff of Legal Momentum, a national legal advocacy nonprofit. Orloff called “in a panic,” Hoffman recalls: She needed legal help applying for dozens of U-visas—visas for noncitizens who have suffered physical or mental abuse from a crime—for underage undocumented The Am Law Pro Bono 100workers who had been arrested in an immigration raid on a kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant. Without U-visas, the workers faced deportation; with the visas, they would be granted employment authorization and the eventual chance to apply for permanent legal resident status.

The raid on the Agriprocessors, Inc., plant in Postville, Iowa—the largest such raid in state history—resulted in the arrests of 389 undocumented workers, mostly from Mexico and Guatemala. When Legal Momentum stepped in to represent the workers, it discovered 24 underage workers among the people arrested, some of whom told stories of what Hoffman calls “horrific” working conditions.

Agriprocessors’ owner and managers were charged with thousands of violations of child labor laws in September 2008; the company filed for bankruptcy in November. Company spokesman Chaim Abrahams said the Agriprocessors management denied all allegations, adding that any underage workers at the plant were hired unknowingly and would have been fired if supervisors learned their true age.

Legal Momentum assembled a group of psychologists to interview the children in person and send their statements to Crowell. In a massive organizational challenge, a team of 14 Crowell attorneys from the firm’s Washington, D.C., New York, and Irvine offices, coordinated by Hoffman and partner Alex Sadler, set to work on filling out the massive U-visa applications, which required some proof of harm in the workplace. Evidence began to mount. Some workers told of being forced to labor for 12 hours or more at a time and of having to operate sharp machinery without any protection or training. Several teenage girls reported being sexually abused at the plant. One worker, Elmer, whose last name was not given to protect his privacy, recalled injuring himself with a sharp hook and being told to keep working—like “a slave,” he said.

The Crowell attorneys spent more than 530 hours and almost three months on the case. In letters accompanying the visa applications, the Crowell team argued that the abuse violated Iowa’s child labor laws, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA), and the Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA). Meanwhile, ICE has continued attempting to deport the workers, arguing that they are in the country illegally, though the original ICE search warrant for the raid referred to the alleged exploitation. So far, 20 U-visas have been granted for the undocumented workers, most of them for the children, who are now cooperating with authorities investigating the meatpacking company’s conduct. The rest of the visa applications are still pending.

—Vivian Yee | July 1, 2009

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