The successful request for emergency preliminary injunction in the Fraihat v. ICE case filed by CREEC and co-counsel at the start of the pandemic opened the legal door for thousands of immigrants in detention who are medically vulnerable to be potentially released. Except that ICE detains thousands of people who have no legal representation, and we could not be sure ICE was appropriately considering those people. When the need for short-term legal help for people covered under the court’s order increased, CREEC reached out to We the Action – a nonprofit that pairs volunteer lawyers with mission compatible projects.
Director of CREEC’s Immigration Accountability Project (IDAP), Elizabeth Jordan explains, “We frankly don’t trust ICE to get this process right, and we know that data has proven time and again that immigrants who have lawyers have better odds for better outcomes on all sorts of issues. We felt that we had a duty to Fraihat class members to match as many of them as possible with lawyers to help them seek release and stay safe from the pandemic.”
CREEC applied to be a We the Action partner, proposing a project in which volunteer lawyers could provide limited representation for detained people seeking custody review pursuant to the Fraihat order. Just six days after posting the project on We the Action’s website, we heard from six interested attorneys. In five short weeks, the number of volunteers grew to 38.
To date, volunteer attorneys have helped at least 16 detained people request release and many more are in process. The project is putting much needed pressure on ICE to do the right thing consistent with the judge’s order. The project’s volunteer attorneys are shining a light on ICE’s noncompliance with the judge’s orders when they refuse to release medically vulnerable immigrants or provide adequate medical protection. In addition, CREEC’s immigrant rights allies have been resources in this project providing additional referrals and expertise.
Shyrissa Dobbins is one of the volunteer lawyers who found CREEC’s project through We the Action. “I was looking for a way to help during the pandemic, especially those most vulnerable. I was familiar with the Fraihat v. ICE case through some volunteer work I’d done for Al Otro Lado [one of the plaintiff organizations in the case] and knew this would be a worthy project,” said Shyrissa. CREEC is so glad Shyrissa responded to the call! Shyrissa has already committed to working on three cases and intends to take on more. Commenting on her experience thus far Shyrissa states, “It’s humbling to be working with detained persons, especially those at increased risk from COVID-19. They are so brave and they’re scared to death. They know they’re medically vulnerable and they’re stuck in a small cage with at least two other people – social distancing clearly isn’t an option.”
After CREEC is connected with interested attorneys through We the Action, we train them in the custody review process and then each volunteer attorney is paired with a mentor from CREEC or one of the co-counsel organizations in the Fraihat case.
Senior Staff Attorney, Pilar Gonzalez Morales explains, “CREEC is thrilled to partner with We the Action. This project is incredibly important to ensure medically vulnerable people are afforded the review process granted by the Court. It provides attorneys and advocates from many different backgrounds and legal experience to see how the ICE system functions, and often, malfunctions and to work closely with detained individuals. The volunteers have been exceptional and having a mentor throughout the process has helped our volunteers obtain quick assistance as they navigate the intricate detention system.”
We the Action begins with the premise that lawyers have the power to do good and that there are many worthy projects already established by our country’s leading nonprofits. We the Action matches these two forces in an effort to multiply impact beyond what can be done separately. CREEC, for one, is glad they do.
Elizabeth Jordan remarks, “We have been absolutely delighted by this partnership. We the Action is a responsive, robust partner and they’ve been with us every step of the way as we got this entirely new type of limited immigration representation off the ground. We hope to continue working with WtA on other projects as the opportunity arises in our IDAP work at CREEC.”
Check out We the Action’s website to see all the amazing projects they offer through their partner organizations.