Several Florida law firms have pledged to help reunify separated immigrant families and volunteered to represent asylum seekers on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Akerman chairman and CEO David I. Spector and Bilzin Sumberg chairman John Sumberg are among the law firm leaders who joined a coalition effort by dozens of law firms nationally offering pro bono representation for the detained children.
Greenberg Traurig co-president Hilarie Bass, in her role as president of the American Bar Association, visited the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas and the McAllen, Texas, federal courthouse Tuesday to see the situation first hand.
The Miami-based litigator met with parents at the center and attended a court hearing where 75 defendants pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of illegal entry. Each spent a few minutes with a federal public defender before entering the pleas, ABA Media Relations said on Twitter.
The ABA is coordinating volunteers and donations through its South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project.
At Bilzin Sumberg, attorney Sara Herald, a longtime children’s advocate, is coordinating the expansion of the firm’s work with Lawyers for Children. At least 20 Bilzin attorneys have signed up for a training session July 10 on immigration law and parents’ right to pursue reunification.
“First we need to find out who their parents are, where are they, what are their parents’ status in terms of seeking asylum and where are they being held,” she said Wednesday. “Some of these children are so small they cannot speak for themselves, so you have to pray the government has some appropriate records.”
About 105 Holland & Knight attorneys firmwide are working on current or new cases in Texas. Another 20 attorneys have volunteered for training to work with detained parents on asylum interviews and bond hearings. The firm is partnering with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services on the work.
Miami attorney Cheryl Little, executive director of the nonprofit Americans for Immigrant Justice, works on the national stage for human rights advocacy for immigrants.
All the activity is set against a backdrop of rapid-fire court rulings and policy changes under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance directive to arrest everyone arriving at the U.S.-Mexican border without permission.
A San Diego federal judge Tuesday night ordered thousands of migrant children and parents forced apart at the border to be reunited within 30 days, and less time was allowed for youngsters under 5. U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw also barred further family separations and ordered the federal government to link separated parents and their children by phone within 10 days.
The lack of clarity over how agencies will reunite families has spurred over 40 law firms and organizations to attempt to fill that void. They have paired with a nonprofit group to launch Project Corazon — the latest push among a slate of other immigration rights groups and pro bono lawyers working to reunite families.
Ellis Kim of the National Law Journal contributed to this report.