Waiting in Line for a Lawyer to Change Their Lives

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By Harry Shulman, Esq. 

I don’t know of any person in this world who likes a line.  Lines, lines, everywhere there is a line. Out in North Dakota you may not have to wait in line for a view of a windswept snow-covered plain in the winter, but here in NYC waiting in line can be a common experience. What gets me are the lines at the airport, especially traveling internationally: I wait to get my boarding pass from an agent, I wait to go through security, I line up at the gate, I solemnly proceed down the ramp, and finally, I wait while the passenger in front of me attempts to do her impression of an Olympic weightlifter struggling to get her 100 pound bag over her head. 

As immigration lawyers, many of us are familiar with the lines at 26 Federal Plaza, as we are rushing to get to an adjustment interview or a court hearing.  For those of us who volunteer for the AILA Juvenile Docket, every first Thursday of the month we line up to go to the ceremonial courtroom on the 12th floor of the building, where we meet with the children assigned to the juvenile docket that day. These dockets seem to attract the biggest lines: the waiting area is often crammed full of kids and their relatives, and of course the shadow line of those undocumented individuals who dare not enter 26 Federal Plaza, though their children must appear.

These are kids who have been caught crossing the border, served with a Notice to Appear and placed in ORR custody for a couple of weeks or months, until finally released to a TPS parent, an LPR sibling or most likely an undocumented uncle, aunt or family friend. What we do at the docket is introduce ourselves as volunteer attorneys who are there to help them, ask them questions about how, why and when they arrived, trying to determine whether they are eligible for any form of relief, and then take them before a judge as a friend of the court, hoping that the judge will see these children not just as A- numbers but as young people with hopes and dreams and pasts and futures. 

We are pretty good at conducting intakes with the kids and taking them in front of the judge to ask for more time to find them representation, but where we encounter our biggest line is the one the kids must wait in to find a volunteer AILA lawyer to take their case. This line is now over 300 kids long. We are trying our best to convince busy AILA lawyers to take on a pro bono juvenile case. Interestingly, there appears to be about 500+ AILA NY chapter members, so that if each member volunteered to take one case, then that line would disappear as quickly as the line for seeing the movie Ishtar after the reviews came out. 

We have kids lining up for lawyers in one direction, but we need lawyers lining up in the other direction to meet them head on, like at the end of the Stanley Cup when they all line up and shake hands.  The good news is that we don’t have much of a lawyer line, so you won’t have to wait to take a kid’s case. The bad news is that some kids have been waiting on line for such a long time that they are aging out of certain forms of relief critical to their case.  It’s like when they rush you through airport security when your flight is about to leave in 20 minutes.  For these kids, if they miss their metaphorical flight, that’s it.  They get put on a real flight back to the abuse, persecution, neglect, or extreme poverty they escaped from.

To wrap up, everybody hates a line, but to volunteer your time for pro bono work there is never a line, and better yet the satisfaction of using your legal skills to assist someone who desperately needs your help is the most rewarding, life-changing thing you don’t have to wait in line for.

We need your help to volunteer at the AILA Juvenile Docket held on the first Thursday of each month at 26 Federal Plaza, and even more importantly, to take one of our pro bono cases.  If you take a case you can receive CLE credit for your work, and this is a great way to maintain your practice and fulfill your CLE credits at the same time.  If you are new to the world of removal proceedings or juvenile representation, we are happy to provide you with support and mentoring to assist you. For more information, please contact:

Harry Shulman at harryshulman@me.com or

Kristi Dalling at kristi.dalling@gmail.com



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