MVLS Volunteers Help Children and Families Through Unaccompanied Youth Project

MVLS volunteer attorneys help children fleeing danger in their home countries through our partnership with Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), the Esperanza Center and the University of Maryland Immigration Clinic. These children, known as “Unaccompanied Youth”, are already in the United States living with adult sponsors, usually family members. They seek Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) in order to remain here.

A state court order is a prerequisite to filing for SIJS with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). MVLS volunteers are paired with the adult sponsors of children for their initial state court cases. For lawyers familiar with Maryland custody law, taking on this type of case is a natural fit. There is only one additional step beyond a normal custody case – obtaining a predicate order for SIJS. After the predicate order is established, another attorney represents the child before USCIS.

MVLS volunteers are paired with adult sponsors living in Baltimore City and County, Anne Arundel County, Frederick County, and all other counties that MVLS serves. The MVLS community has been crucial in enabling programs like KIND to stay afloat. “We work well together,” said Jennifer Jaimes, KIND’s Supervising Attorney for Pro Bono Programs. “I would say that KIND’s partnership with MVLS has been key in a moment where our services to children have been increasing. We get a lot of referrals.”

In the past few months, MVLS volunteers have accepted dozens of SIJS cases. Laurie Hansen, an MVLS volunteer attorney, took a SIJS case both to learn something new and to help vulnerable children. MVLS volunteer José Canto also had altruistic intent: “Helping these children obtain green cards puts them on the path towards success in this country,” he said. But he also anticipated a long-term business benefit. “As these children grow older and inevitably need legal help, who do you think they are going to call?” he asked. “The pro bono attorney who helped them get a green card,” he said. “You have a client for life.”

KIND and Esperanza have offered an increasingly strong network of support to pro bono attorneys. Lawyers who aren’t fluent in Spanish get in-person interpreters. Every MVLS volunteer is connected to a staff attorney for big-picture advice and mentorship, and for the smaller questions there’s a “Random Questions” listserv. Ms. Hansen accepted a joint Esperanza Center-MVLS case. “I relied on the Esperanza Center attorney for help. She provided sample pleadings,” Ms. Hansen said. “I also got a volunteer interpreter from the Esperanza Center.”

In the past three years, KIND has already helped over 300 children in Maryland. MVLS volunteers have stepped up to provide quality legal representation in their state court proceedings. The KIND-MVLS relationship has been mutually beneficial. Mr. Canto enjoyed working with KIND mentors. “The personalities you’ll encounter in this line of work make the work worth doing,” he said. And KIND has appreciated MVLS volunteer help. “It has been a blessing,” Ms. Jaimes said. “Really.”

If you’re interested in participating in the Unaccompanied Youth Project, or have additional questions, please contact MVLS Deputy Director Susan Francis at sfrancis@mvlslaw.org or 443-451-4084.

Maryland Woman Finds a Home for Her Uncle

David* took it hard when his significant other of 34 years died from lung cancer. He lost 50 pounds, and his finances grew precarious. David suffers from dementia, and since his partner was gone, he needed more care.

David ended up in the hospital where his treating physicians concluded he no longer had the ability to care for himself. The hospital filed a petition for the appointment of a guardian for David, and the court appointed an advocate for him – MVLS attorney Janet Fedder. Janet is an attorney with the Adult Protective Services Guardianship and Adult Public Guardianship Review Board (APGRB) project, a program that represents more than 400 indigent adults in the Baltimore area in guardianship cases.

David was estranged from most of his family, but his niece Heather* was always there for him. Heather was very sympathetic to her uncle’s needs, and spoke to several attorneys about the case. But after speaking with them, she was left confused and with incorrect information about the guardianship process. Heather inaccurately believed that she would need to contribute to the cost of the guardianship proceedings as well David’s physical and medical care if she became his guardian.

As David’s advocate, Janet thoroughly and patiently explained the guardianship process to Heather and also informed her about what her legal rights and responsibilities would be if she were appointed David’s guardian. After discussing the matter with Heather, and knowing that David wanted Heather to be his legal guardian, Janet argued for that at the circuit court guardianship hearing. After Heather was appointed guardian, Janet then went above and beyond to help Heather navigate the nursing home system to find the best possible care for David. Because of the hard work of Janet and Heather, David is now in a comfortable, accepting aging care facility.

As the case drew to a close, Heather wrote Janet this note:

“I just wanted to thank you for all your time and effort you gave my uncle, [David]. I was very much ignorant of the system and through your guidance I feel my uncle has the best care. I now am in control of his care without the burden of his finances. Your concern for my affairs makes me so grateful for lawyers like you.”

To help people like David, attorneys can accept representation of an indigent petitioner. Contact Michelle Swift at mswift@mvlslaw.org or (443) 451-4068 to volunteer.

 

*Names have been changed