Neo Tran - Immigrants' Rights Coalition (CAIR Coalition)
Q. Could you tell me about the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (CAIR Coalition)?
A. CAIR Coalition is one of the organizations on the forefront of immigration issues. A couple of years ago we encountered a situation where a huge number of unaccompanied minors fleeing violent situations in Central America crossed the border into the U.S. These kids were picked up and put in various detention facilities around the country. At the time, CAIR Coalition helped match pro bono attorneys with the children whom the Coalition interviewed and identified as having a strong case to apply for asylum. They matched us with a client who was about 17 when he crossed the border. The client was in removal proceedings and faced immediate deportation. We helped him obtain an extension of time in the immigration court and then worked with him to prepare and submit an application for asylum. The whole process took about a year, but it was successful.
Q. How did you get matched up with him?
A. Kutak Rock, via our DC office, partnered with CAIR Coalition and volunteered to provide pro bono services to unaccompanied minors. Every week the Coalition circulated a list of potential clients to their partner law firms. One of our contacts at the Coalition recommended this client to us.
Q. I’m not sure how much you’re allowed to discuss, but what was it like working with him?
A. In the beginning it was difficult. The client spoke very little English and I, unfortunately, don’t speak Spanish. Fortunately, one of our DC office assistants volunteered to act as interpreter. And I was very committed to the case, as I am an immigrant and I knew how this kid’s future could be changed by what we could do for him.
The other challenge at the beginning was that our young client was very shy and he didn’t want to talk much. It was a difficult situation because our application was based on a sensitive personal situation of the client. We needed him to provide sufficient information to build a strong asylum application. At the time, the client had been released from the detention center and was going to a high school in Maryland. He was harassed at school and was reluctant to open up. I remember meeting him every other week or so in the beginning. My assistant and I showed him how to use the metro. We took him out for ice cream to talk and get to know him. It took us several months before he would actually open up and give us more detail about why he fled his hometown and what kind of violence he was running away from. Ultimately, he collaborated and provided enough detail for us to prepare a successful asylum application.
Q. Do you still have any contact with him or know what happened to him?
A. After the client was granted asylum, he was allowed to stay in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. He got connected with some of his relatives and I think he moved to their location to work on a farm. He reached out to us a couple times as he considered applying for U.S. citizenship. I provided him with the names of non-profit organizations closer to his new home that had more resources to help him.
Q. Did he ever get back in touch with his mom to let her know he was safe?
A. He did. With the internet and social media he was able to contact his mom. She was very glad he was able to get away from all the chaos in their home country.
Q. Do you see yourself doing any more pro bono work of this type?
A. Recently I’ve been doing more volunteer work instead of pro bono, but I’d be happy to take on a similar case when the opportunity arises. I am not an immigration lawyer but I am willing to learn more. As an immigrant myself, it’s very rewarding to do immigration pro bono work. You have an opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives.