Baton Rouge, LA--Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge (CCDBR) announced today that more immigrant children, all seeking safety from violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador and living with guardians in Louisiana, will receive legal help from its Louisiana Esperanza Project (Esperanza). The agency was granted two new legal recruits—an attorney and paralegal--through the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellowship Program.
“These two positions increase the number of lives the program will impact and couldn't have come at a better time,” said David Aguillard, CCDBR Executive Director. “The children who arrived last summer are being fast tracked by Immigration Court, and they desperately need representation now.”
CCDBR launched Esperanza last year as the number of unaccompanied immigrant children coming to live with guardians in Louisiana increased. Winifred and Kevin Reilly, and Jennifer and Sean Reilly made challenge grants to launch the program.
“In conversations with D.C. officials, I think they noticed that with the Reillys’ gift, we had a program in place that put us ahead of the curve. With the two fellows, our ability to protect the children will increase substantially,” said Aguillard.
Unlike criminal court, legal representation isn't provided for people appearing before an immigration court judge. Legal fees are out of reach for most.
“Based on the data, we know that if the children don’t have representation in immigration court, almost all will disappear, making them more vulnerable than ever,” said Aguillard. “And that’s everyone’s worst nightmare.”
Aguillard stated that CCDBR employs 50% of the nonprofit immigration attorneys in the State and keeps a full client docket. Esperanza is Louisiana’s only privately funded program specifically set up to serve these immigrant children, all seeking safety from violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
“Since Esperanza started in September, 2014, we've had contact with 400 children and their sponsors,” said Aguillard. “Our new Fellows will dramatically increase that amount over the next year.”
The two Fellows are members of Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps, a strategic partnership between The Corporation for National and Community Service, which operates the AmeriCorps national service program, and the Department of Justice through its Executive Office for Immigration Review. The program was launched last year by President Obama to “increase national service while facilitating the effective and efficient adjudication of immigration proceedings involving certain children who have crossed the border without a parent or legal guardian.”
Fellows Adam Klock, a recent graduate of Loyola Law School, says his passion for immigration law was ignited while working in the college’s Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic.
“These children are some of the most vulnerable on our planet,” Klock said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to provide representation and advocate for them.”
Before moving to Baton Rouge, Fellow Claudia de la Rosa-Fuller was enrolled as a PhD student at Arizona University in Border Studies.
“This is my dream job,” Rosa-Fuller said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to help immigrants—teaching them they have options and helping them to navigate the laws. But most of all, letting them know they are not alone and that people care.”
The scope of work for the attorney/paralegal team, who are due on the job next week, includes representing the children in immigration court proceedings, conducting “Know your Rights” sessions, coordinating the agency’s pool of pro bono counsel and providing universal representation—i.e., public defender-like services—for those appearing before an immigration court judge without an attorney.
Aguillard pointed out that the agency still is in need of monetary donations and is recruiting for pro bono attorneys, interpreters and other volunteers. To find out more or to make a donation, visit www.LouisianaEsperanza.org or call 225-336-8700.
A program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana Esperanza provides legal services available under U.S. law that not only protects unaccompanied minor immigrants lives but assure their sanctuary in the U.S. remains documented. Research shows that one of two things is certain for children who lack representation: they miss their court dates and disappear unsafely into our country or they are deported to the dangerous environments that led them to flee. www.LouisianaEsperanza.org
Founded by law students in 1986, Equal Justice Works is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a just society by mobilizing the next generation of lawyers committed to equal justice. To achieve this, they offer a continuum of opportunities for law students and lawyers that provide the training and skills that enable them to provide effective representation to under-served communities and causes. The Equal Justice Works Fellowships programs fund hundreds of public interest attorneys each year to close the justice gap on issues such as foreclosure, community economic development, immigration, civil rights, homelessness, access to healthcare, and domestic violence. These Fellows have a lasting impact well beyond their fellowship. More than 80% of fellows continue doing public interest work after their fellowship ends.