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When Boston immigration attorney Anthony Pelino went to Florence, Ariz., for 10 days of pro bono work at an immigration detention center, the experience was so profound he packed up his office in Boston and moved to the tiny town, population 5,104. Pelino, who opened an immigration practice in Boston in 1996, says the experience of working with immigrants in Florence was vastly different from that in Boston. In Florence, everyone was detained, making working with them a bigger challenge. The judges were wonderful to work with, the weather was beautiful, and he felt welcomed by the community. “Florence was unlike anything I’d seen,” Pelino says, speaking quickly with a slight Northeastern accent. “The people in detention are stranded from their families and are so isolated. They are in a very, very difficult situation, the outcome of which is critical to their future. It’s clearly an underserved area and people need someone to fight for them.” The opportunity for him to do pro bono work in Florence came about in 1999. While working on a pro bono asylum case in Boston, on behalf of a Belarussian minor who had been persecuted for political expression, he discovered that the teen might have had sexual-orientation claims. He sought help from a gay and lesbian organization. It directed him to Chris Nugent, then director of the Florence Immigration and Refugee Rights Project. Nugent, who knew about Pelino because of a pro bono award that Pelino won in 1997, talked with him about his case and urged him to come to Florence to volunteer for a week. The Florence program, founded in 1989, had relationships with Tucson and Phoenix attorneys an hour away, but Pelino was the first out-of-state attorney recruited for pro bono work. “It was a fortuitous opportunity to have an expert practitioner do pro bono,” Nugent says. “There would be no learning curve. With other pro bono attorneys you have to really mentor and co-counsel them.” Pelino agreed to go when he could. In the fall of 1999, he began work as a part-time, interim clinical supervising attorney at Boston University School of Law’s civil litigation program. So he scheduled the trip between semesters. When he left for 10 days in January 2000, he took one of his students with him, third-year Cesar Ternieden. Florence, the fifth-oldest city in Arizona, has a wild-west history complete with tales of gunslinging in the saloons. The town has only one main street, but has a detention population nearly double that of the local residents. The Refugee Rights Project works with more than 750 detainees in Florence and about 1,000 at private facilities in Eloy, a half-hour away. Staff attorneys handle two to three cases a month. With volunteer lawyers, the program represented 58 people last year. A WORKING VACATION Pelino and Ternieden took on four cases. For each client, they were seeking cancellation of removal claims — a form of relief from deportation for lawful permanent residents who have certain types of minor criminal convictions. They were successful in all four cases. “He was able to save four people from deportation and open the door to freedom when these people would otherwise have gone unrepresented,” says Nugent of the significance of their contributions. The cases were not extraordinary, but they were compelling and interesting, Pelino says. One dealt with a 42-year-old man who, the government alleged, was Colombian. But the man, who had spent years in foster homes in the United States, spoke no Spanish and had no family in Colombia. He had no memory of where he was from. Another client, a Mexican-born man, had come to this country when he was 9. He was married to an American woman, was raising four American kids, had steady work and paid his taxes. But he had a conviction for drug possession. IMMIGRATION FROM THE INSIDE The trip planted the seeds for change. Pelino had come to Boston in 1983 from the Connecticut suburbs for college and then law school at Boston College. After two years working for solos on general civil litigation — including probate, divorce and personal injury — his first pro bono asylum case convinced him to develop a practice in immigration law. Pelino represented a man from Zaire who had been tortured and imprisoned for housing a student with pro-democracy beliefs. “After that, I was hooked,” Pelino says. “Needless to say, it was a very compelling case, and I realized this was the type of work I should be doing.” In 1996, he opened his own practice, focusing on immigration, but continuing his pro bono asylum work. In 1997, he was awarded the Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year award by the Boston Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project. Pelino says he found asylum work gratifying in part because it opened up different parts of the world to him, but also because of his own background. His parents had both immigrated to America as young adults from Italy. “I realize how difficult it is to be an immigrant,” Pelino says. “I think it’s gotten increasingly more difficult.” After his experience in Florence, Pelino made another trip in May to decide if he could really move there. He also researched the probability of his success with the Arizona bar and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He found that Florence has only one other law office, and it doesn’t do immigration work. The existence of the Florence Project was also key to his decision to move. “They are very committed, dedicated and hard-working. That was something that inspired me,” he says. Ternieden, likewise, was taken by the pro bono experience. Like Pelino, he credits his family background with his desire to do immigration law. Brazilian by birth, he moved here in 1990 in his last year of high school. Ternieden’s father, a 70-year-old field mechanic, still works nine-hour days under the sun in central California. With more than $160,000 in undergraduate and law school loans, Ternieden initially considered going the big-firm, big-salary route. After volunteering in Florence, however, he reconsidered. When Pelino offered him a partnership, his decision was made. STARTING ANEW In December, Ternieden opened Pelino & Ternieden in Florence, and at the end of February, Pelino finished closing his office in Boston. The firm has 20 to 25 cases, and it is working on four pro bono cases. Unlike many new law school grads, Ternieden says his quality of life is fantastic. He already has many cases and is pleased to be working with the large Brazilian population in detention. In addition to the challenging work, Ternieden says he has time “to take a siesta in my hammock.” Pelino says he is optimistic but a little more apprehensive about the shift from the city to the desert. He’ll miss his family on the East Coast and the usual benefits of city living: “Boston’s very culture-rich, but I hope in Arizona, I’ll trade in my social life for a healthier lifestyle.” Elizabeth Dallam, the current director of the Rights Project, is also pleased by their relocation. “It’s nice to have people on-site in Florence we know will give good representation for a reasonable fee,” she says, “and also to have immigration attorneys who are willing to take on immigration cases pro bono.”

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