Pro Bono work at the Border:
Pro Bono Spring Break in Harlingen, Texas

Andrea Carrillo ('12), Kevin Gregg ('13), Kate Kramer ('14), Michelle Martinez ('14), Maria Tartaglia ('14) and Alexix Terriquez ('14) were each selected to travel to Harlingen, Texas, to work with the South Texas branch of the Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBar), a national nonprofit organization that provides legal services to asylum seekers detained by the United States government. As a joint project of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Texas, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, ProBar recruits, trains and coordinates the pro bono activities of volunteer attorneys, law students and legal assistants.

Many of the asylum-seeking detainees have fled warring nations and would otherwise be subject to religious and political persecution, yet they still face an uphill battle proving their asylum once in the U.S. With language barriers, little understanding of the U.S. legal system and few financial resources, many risk being deported back to their home nations.

Maria Tartaglia ('14) describes her work with ProBar in the Q&A and slideshow below (select "i" to view full caption).

Q & A with Maria Tartaglia ('14)

Maria Tartaglia ('14)

Why did you choose the South Texas trip?

I knew before I even came to BU Law that the School offered pro bono trips, and I knew that I wanted to participate in one of those trips. When I received the list of opportunities for Spring 2012 and saw that there was an immigration trip, I immediately knew that was the program I wanted to apply to. Prior to coming to law school, I had experience with immigration law. I wrote a paper on "Barriers Undocumented Immigrants Face in Obtaining a U-Visa" for an honors seminar, and I interned with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, where I met many undocumented immigrants who were victims of domestic violence. These experiences sparked my interest in immigration law, and this trip was an amazing opportunity to see if I might want to practice immigration law without the limitation of only being able to intern or volunteer for an organization for a few hours a week during the semester.

What is ProBar and how specifically does the organization address issues of social injustice?

The South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBar) is an organization that provides pro bono legal services to asylum seekers. ProBar specifically recruits and trains volunteer attorneys, law students and legal assistants in a continued effort to address the injustices faced by asylum seekers.

To assist ProBar in preparing an application for asylum, several of us interviewed the client to obtain relevant information. Our group was also given miscellaneous research projects. I was given the assignment of finding relevant case law that could be used in one of the ProBar attorney's briefs.

What was a typical day like on your trip?

At about 9:00 a.m. we would break off into two groups. One group went to a detention center specifically for children, and my group went to the ProBar office. At the ProBar office, we worked on our research assignments and prepared our questions and documents that we needed to review with our client. Around lunchtime, our group would drive out to the Port Isabel Detention Center where we would meet with clients for about an hour, mainly to go over the application for asylum and to ensure we had all the accurate and relevant information. After that we would return to the ProBar office to continue researching and editing our clients' paperwork.

Did you have any interaction with clients of ProBar?

One of the attorneys at ProBar introduced us to her client. It was a very difficult case where the client had turned himself in to immigration authorities and was filing a claim against detention, which would have allowed him to attain citizenship under the Dream Act. But under current law, the client was unlikely to obtain citizenship.

Throughout the week I was able to become better educated about the specific issues and characteristics of the situation surrounding our client and other similarly situated clients.

What do you think the future will hold for ProBar or organizations like it?

Although they are extremely busy and cannot represent everyone they would ideally want to represent, ProBar does a great job zealously advocating for those clients they are able to help. Furthermore, ProBar seems to have a great network of law student and attorney volunteers.

What type of law do you hope to practice, and will the skills or experience you acquired on the Spring Break pro bono trip translate into your future ambitions?

I am not entirely sure what area of law I hope to practice, but some of the areas that I'm currently considering are immigration/asylum law, family law, or domestic violence law. Regardless of which of these areas I choose to work in, the direct contact that I had with the client gave me great practice. These communication skills will be incredibly helpful regardless of the area I choose because I definitely want to end up in a career where I work directly with clients.

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