Pro Bono Perspective: Representing an Immigrant Youth
by Bill Reynolds, Freddie Mac
On a warm Saturday evening in mid-August, I was driving home from the office and called Malena, our client’s mother, to ask if I could stop at her apartment. I wanted to drop off draft declarations for her and our client, Efrain, to review and I had a birthday card and gift for Efrain. She agreed, and when I arrived, she invited me in. Much to my surprise, I walked in to a full house; their entire family was gathered in the one-bedroom apartment to celebrate Efrain’s birthday. They welcomed me to join them in the party. Malena had made one of his favorite dishes from their home country, and she wanted me to try it. I stayed, sharing in their food and hospitality. As I finally wished the family goodnight some hours later, I was struck again that this scene was only possible because Malena worked countless hours cooking in Washington, DC restaurants to support her children and was advocating fiercely to find a path to legal status for her family.
This story encapsulates what I respect and admire about our clients, particularly Malena and Efrain. Malena’s sense of family is incredible. Her love and devotion to her children drove her to seek a better life for the family. Even as she worked tirelessly as a cook in various restaurants, she always focused on reunification with her children, who were cared for by family in their home country. Malena’s work ethic is amazing and her energy boundless— she often works at one restaurant in the morning and another in the evening, while still finding time to get her children off to school in the morning and care for them in the afternoon.
While this has been incredible experience, I must admit that I was apprehensive about taking on a pro bono juvenile immigration case. As a corporate lawyer, I had no prior immigration experience and generally work long hours. Working in-house, I have never appeared in court on behalf of a client. Finally, aside from having once been one, I have had little experience with teenagers. CAIR Coalition’s incredible staff and vast resources (along with invaluable guidance of my co-counsel, Bob Lawrence) quickly alleviated most of my fears, and getting to know our clients got rid of the rest.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Malena and her children (and their extended family) are what make America great. I am fortunate to have them as clients and as neighbors, just a short walk away, in Washington, DC.