Shira Scheindlin Tackles Immigration Challenges

Shira Scheindlin Tackles Immigration Challenges

The Circuit by Monica Bay - main imageFormer judge Shira Scheindlin may have left the bench at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, but she’s certainly not retired. Scheindlin is of counsel in the New York office of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, and she serves as an arbitrator and mediator at JAMS. But she’s front and center again—launching a new organization to help people caught in the web of President Donald Trump’s attempts to deport immigrants.

The American Immigrant Representation Project (AIRP) has been formed, in partnership with the American Immigration Council, “to address the new priorities and other deporation issues,” the new organization stated in its announcement. The genesis was the triggered when the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge instructed judges to “establish a priorities document for the deportation of immigrants convicted or a crime or suspected of criminal conduct,” said AIRP in the February 6 announcement.

The brainstorm for the new organization came from Scheindlin and four others: Quinn Emanuel partner Faith Gay; Michael Patrick, a retired partner from Fragomen (a nationally recognized immigration lawyer);  Ballard Spahr partner Marjorie Peerce; and Lenni Benson, a professor at New York Law School who founded the Safe Passage Project.

The team “began mobilizing experienced litigators at large law firms and leading immigration defense non-profit organizations to plan a project that would expand access to counsel for people facing deportation. Given the new Administration’s expressed policies, hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of immigrants face a threat of removal,” the press release stated.

Shira Scheindlin, retired United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York (Photo by Matt Furman).

Shira Scheindlin, retired United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York (Photo by Matt Furman).

Above The Law asked Scheindlin what motivated her: “In my view, everyone must ask themselves, ‘What can I do to make the world a better place?’ As a judge I was able to do that from time to time when a wrong needed to be made right,” she said. “Now, as a private person, I felt that I must do what I can to continue to ensure that ‘wrongs’ do not persist without an effort to make them right. I saw immigration—particularly mass deportations—as the first area that would require lawyers to step up and represent the most vulnerable people in our society—both in the United States and around the world.”

“How can this country, with our rich history of being proud of our ‘melting pot’ heritage, not heed the cries of refugees and others in need of sanctuary?” Scheindlin continued. “While it is fair to be concerned about our security, we must also remember who we are as a nation. In short, I thought that raising money and volunteers to provide counsel to those targeted for removal was the right thing to do.”

The first steps were an initial mailing to more than 300 “accomplished” attorneys, asking for funds and volunteers to provide direct representation to these immigrants, who are or will be placed in detention facilities throughout the count, said the press release. Then AIRP began reaching out to corporations and foundations: “Pledges in excess of $250,000 already have been received.”

A Steering Committee has been set up, with 22 members, “including law firm partners, law professors, and representatives from leading non-profit groups that are struggling to keep up with the need for counsel,” the release stated. The group intends to help coordinate existing groups and prepare a “detailed intake instrument, supportive pleadings, and provide strategic advice.” Eventually, AIRP plans to connect lawyers to immigrants at detention facilities in many areas and will start offering representation at a group of pilot facilities in several underserved geographic regions.

“Lawyers are in a unique position to help,” observed Scheindlin. When an immigrant in removal proceedings has a lawyer, she or he is 14 times more likely to successfully resist removal than without counsel, she noted. “A lawyer can get at the facts — for example, sometimes an immigrant is a citizen through derivation but doesn’t even know it! — and can raise defenses such as fear of return based on a legitimate fear of danger, the Convention Against Torture, the wrongful classification of the underlying conviction, or a remedy for being out of status (e.g., a lapsed visa).”

“In short, it is the highest calling of the profession for lawyers to use their legal skills to do what is right and what is good, not only what is remunerative,” she said. “The bar has always accepted that role and has often met the challenge to help out where help is most needed.”

Asked how young lawyers and legal community workers can help, Scheindlin said, “Three words: volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. Your help is needed in direct representation of immigrants facing deportation. Many will be detained at facilities that are purposely placed in remote areas. Some will be at liberty in the community but have no access to counsel. Some will need an asylum petition or a habeas petition or representation in court proceedings. Your help is desperately needed. AIRP is keeping a database of all volunteers.”


American Immigration Representation Project AIRPOf course, the new group is asking for money. “Funding is also critical,” Scheindlin said.  “If a lawyer or a business person can’t provide direct representation (and non-lawyers can’t), the AIRP and many other defense organizations are in great need of funds. Money is needed to support travel to facilities in remote locations, videoconferencing capability at facilities, interpreters, training materials, and staff to support this project and others like it. We know that many organizations are asking for money—and most deserve it—but we have a unique mission and also are asking for financial help—particularly from the business community.”

Zapproved, an e-discovery company based in Portland, Oregon, jumped to the cause. The company created the logo, which features the Statue of Liberty and a boat. Zapproved also has built the website, which will launch this week, said CIO Monica Enand.  The company also donated $10,000, she added. (Other tech companies have contributed but have not yet announced their donations.)

“I think this organization is the right answer at the right time,” said Enand. “It is critical to make sure our immigration system works the way our Constitution and our laws intend. We are helping to get tech leaders involved in contributing funds. The funds are critically needed to get everyone representation.”

It’s not a secret that the technology industry relies on talent from all the world. On Sunday, February 5, Apple, Google, and Facebook were among the nearly 100 companies that signed “a legal brief claiming [Trump’s] executive order barring citizens of Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, Libra and Syria from entering the country for 80 days ‘inflicts significant harm on American busineses,” reported Marisa Kendall in the Mercury News. Another 31 companies added their names the next day.

“As far as tech goes, we are in a global war for talent,” said Enand. “We have been able to be so innovative because America is where the smartest people in the world want to come. That can’t change. For legal technology specifically, growth in data volume and variety, along with a need for extremely good security, is going to require us to make advancements that we have never before had to in order to keep our justice system working. ”

If you wish to donate, here’s the address:

American Immigration Representation Project
c/o American Immigration Counsel
1331 G Street N.W., Suite 200
Washington, D.C. 20005


• American Immigration Lawyers Association: Upcoming events include the 2017 AILA Spring CLE Conference, April 7, Washington Court Hotel, Washington, D. C.  AILA Chicago Chapter Midwest Regional Conference, March 13, Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago. (Check with AILA for other regional events.)

Federal Bar Association: 2017 Immigration Law Conference, Friday May 12-Saturday May 13. Denver, Colo. Embassy Suites by Hilton Downtown. Early bird registration through 3/31.

• Immigration Advocates Network: Calendar.

ICIRL 2017: 19th International Conference on Immigration and Refugee Law, June 4-5, Hotel Pennsylvania, New York.

monica-bayMonica Bay is a Fellow at CodeX: The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics and a freelance writer for Above The Law and other media. She co-hosts Law Technology Now (Legal Talk Network) and is a member of the California Bar. Monica can frequently be found at Yankee Stadium. Email: Twitter: @MonicaBay.


Published at Thu, 16 Feb 2017 00:12:41 +0000

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