Big Law and Human Rights?

Meeting the surge of asylum seekers.

Written by Luis R. Campos

In the last couple of years, Big Law has discovered the practice of human rights law. The country has witnessed unprecedented numbers of families arriving at our southern border. Many are women seeking the protection of our asylum laws, both for themselves and for their children, who came in tow. As a group, these arriving are quite different from others. They have purposely sought out border enforcement officers, rather than evading them, so that a formal request for asylum could be made. What has ensued in many instances is alarming. Children have been separated from parents and sent to distant shelters, while parents are criminally prosecuted (under a zero-tolerance policy). More recently, asylum-seekers have been summarily deported, while in other cases entire families have been subjected to unlawful detention. Although the government purportedly ceased some of these practices, credible reports suggest the continuation of legally questionable practices designed to dissuade or punish asylum-seekers.

It is in this context that Big Law has taken on the pro bono representation of a vulnerable population. My law firm is one of many that has answered the call to volunteerism by taking on more than 20 clients. Our goals are threefold: pursue the reunification of families; challenge the conditions and duration of detention—in federal court, if necessary, to secure the release of clients; and provide legal representation in removal and asylum proceedings. Firms also recognized the need to protect the rule of law (that is, its clear, fair, and consistent application), as well as ensure the constitutional and legal rights to which asylum-seekers are entitled. There have been many accounts related by the press and by immigration and human rights advocates not only of the harsh conditions to which asylum-seekers have been subjected, but also of the deprivation of due process in the administration of our immigration laws. Asylum-seekers have not been the only beneficiaries of Big Law’s commitment. The firms have also derived significant benefits. At my firm, cadres of enthusiastic and highly talented young lawyers formed asylum teams. They have been given significant responsibilities such as conducting research, drafting pleadings, interviewing clients, working with witnesses, and occasionally appearing in immigration court. The young lawyers (and the firm) clearly also have gained much from an attorney development prospective. Initially, the learning curve could be steep, as lawyers came from diverse practice groups such as corporate, real estate, business litigation, and white collar. Fortunately, we have been able to tap the expertise of our nonprofit partners, excellent organizations that have traditionally occupied the asylum and immigrant rights space. These strategic partnerships are essential to securing the effective and successful representation of our clients. Since these organizations can often be resource-deprived, Big Law also has helped fill a critical need, particularly as the surge of asylum-seekers overwhelmed the nonprofit capacity. Interestingly, many of our institutional clients also have expressed enthusiasm for our asylum work. Some have joined our asylum teams by offering legal and translation support. They also provided direct material assistance to asylum-seekers, who faced a precarious existence while their asylum proceedings continued.

In June 2018, the managing partners of more than 30 large law firms signed on to an important op-ed in the New York Times. The authors, the managing partners in two of the largest law firms in the U.S., titled the piece, The Law Did Not Create This Crisis, but Lawyers Will Help End It. My firm and I have been privileged to answer this call. Our work continues. My central purpose in this essay is to invite more lawyers to join our network, a newly formed bulwark. Our work is urgent and necessary to protect the law: both for humans in need and for the integrity of the legal institutions we cherish.TBJ

This article was originally published in the June 2020 edition of the Dallas Bar Association’s Headnotes and has been edited and reprinted with permission.


is counsel (immigration and nationality law) to Haynes and Boone. The opinions expressed here are solely the author’s.

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