Sat, Jul 28, 2018 - Page 9 News List

There is an army of local lawyers itching to fight Trump policies

By Nick Leiber  /  Bloomberg

Veronica Walther was not planning to spend July 4 in an immigration detention center. However, when she learned she could volunteer to help detainees at Karnes County Residential Center — a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility outside San Antonio, Texas, holding women and children — she cleared her schedule, bought a plane ticket and reserved a hotel room and rental car.

She also took her semi-retired interpreter mom, who volunteered for attorneys who did not speak Spanish.

For a week, Walther assisted about 20 women mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — Central America’s troubled Northern Triangle — who had been detained after entering the US to seek asylum for themselves and their children because they said they feared for their lives in their home countries.

“All of them took enormous risks to get to the border to avoid being killed,” said Walther, who speaks fluent Spanish. “I didn’t meet a single woman who I thought was lying or even embellishing her story.”

Lost in the noise over the policies of the administration of US President Donald Trump at the border with Mexico is the difference between illegal immigrants and people seeking legal asylum.

Walther, who runs her own law firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is now organizing other attorneys to volunteer remotely, helping prepare legal briefs on behalf of asylum seekers, or to volunteer in the detention centers.

She is also handling pro bono the asylum case of a Honduran family she met at Karnes. They recently moved to Minneapolis with the help of a sponsor family after being released — Walther met them on her plane home.

Walther is one of a growing number of lawyers, interpreters and other professionals across the US claimed as members of Lawyers for Good Government (L4GG), a nonprofit whose founder has said it is nonpartisan, but progressive.

The group has said that 10 percent to 15 percent of its 125,000 Facebook followers are active members, by either volunteering or donating.

Little-known outside legal circles, the organization was launched as a Facebook group the day after Trump was elected. It screens attorneys such as Walther — who heads the group’s Minnesota chapter — and funnels them to legal services groups.

“L4GG has people who identify as independents, Republicans, Democrats — it’s all across the spectrum,” Walther said.

After the first Trump administration ban on travel to the US from Muslim-majority countries, the group directed hundreds of lawyers via the Internet to airports across the nation, coordinated volunteers with legal services groups and had international members hand out know-your-rights flyers in more than 20 languages at airports around the world.

The group also runs programs including prevention of voter suppression and environmental protection.

Adam Cohen, a Westchester, New York-based attorney who joined the group’s board of directors last year, said there are a lot of attorneys out there “dying to do something, not just donate money.”

However, showing up is not all that is needed — many practitioners have little or no experience in these arenas. Full-time civil rights advocates such as American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas executive director Terri Burke have welcomed the outpouring, with the caveat that volunteers need to be trained and managed to be effective.

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