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Statutes of Liberty: You Ask, We Provide — Heartwarming Pro Bono Success Stories

This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq. and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

You, our patient readers, asked for pro bono success stories in our Readerpalooza poll, and we’re glad to provide!

All names and some small details have been changed to protect the identity of the individual client. In all cases, we’re providing the name of the referring organization and a donation link — these are great places, and every contribution helps.

We’re not always Scrooge McDuck!

Mrs. M — the Arlington Volunteer

Some of our most wonderful pro bono cases are referred to us by our friends at St. Charles Borromeo Church, right here in Clarendon. Mrs. M. is one of them. Mrs. M won asylum in the United States based on political persecution in her home country, then sought and obtained a green card. When we met her, she was eligible for U.S. citizenship, but she needed careful assistance to get through the process of becoming a citizen. Like many of our clients, she was worried about the naturalization interview process, so we did several practice interviews with her. We brought her to the interview, she passed with flying colors, and she brought us sweets afterward. She also volunteered to coach other pro bono clients of ours on how to pass the naturalization examination, which fits very well with her generous nature — she has been volunteering to help with COVID response here in Arlington as well.

Ms. N — Domestic Violence Survivor

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington called us to tell us about a good person with a major problem: Ms. N and her abusive United States citizen spouse. Laura Lorenzo had recently joined our office, and so we immediately matched Laura with Ms. N to begin the process of applying for immigration relief. Ms. N’s husband — a real jerk, to use the proper legal term — was physically and psychologically abusive, and, on top of that, leveraged her lack of immigration status in family court to deprive her of custody of their children. Laura has worked with Ms. N to prepare a Violence Against Women Act petition, which will permanently free her from relying on her abusive husband for immigration protection. When Laura’s work succeeds, Ms. N will be able to apply for a green card in her own right.

Mr. O Knows: The Government Can’t Argue Both Sides of the Same Case

The Board of Immigration Appeals Pro Bono Project matches private attorneys with cases that wouldn’t ordinarily find a way to the private bar. That’s how we met Mr. O, who was sitting in immigration detention in Arizona. Mr. O had an interesting legal problem. While representing himself pro se, Mr. O had presented a request for asylum, and the Department of Homeland Security had (perhaps unadvisedly) conceded that he was eligible for asylum, only to retract its concession on appeal. Mr. O, happily, had two friends on his side — our law firm, and more importantly, the doctrine of judicial estoppel, which prevents a party (in this case, DHS) from taking contradictory positions at different stages of litigation. We presented a brief to the Board of Immigration appeals, in which we argued that Mr. O’s grant of asylum should survive DHS’s change of heart. DHS, to its credit, withdrew its appeal, and Mr. O was promptly released.

We’re proud of our work with pro bono clients, and we would be delighted to provide additional resources if you have questions about what organizations are best positioned to help particular types of cases.

As a final note, for the sake of disclosure — one of our lawyers, James Montana, volunteers with the Borromeo Legal Project, Inc., which is associated with St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington but has a separate organizational structure. The link above is to donate to St. Charles Borromeo Church directly, not to the organization with which James volunteers. We just want you to know that we aren’t engaging in self-dealing.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and we will do our best to respond.

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