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It’s Pro Bono Week!

In the legal services community, this is the week every year when we pause to celebrate and thank the legions of attorneys, paralegals, and other volunteers who help us ensure members of our communities have access to justice.

At the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), that sometimes means spending a day helping Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients renew their legal protection and work authorization, or participating in legal information sessions for newly arrived migrants.

And sometimes, it means partnering with a courageous client for years to ensure they have a fair chance at protection in our nation’s complex immigration legal system.

This week, we’re excited to celebrate a pro bono victory nearly a decade in the making: Gretta, a trans woman activist and artist, and a long-time NIJC client, won asylum this fall.

Four large panels of art, with colorful drawings of flowers and bamboo on them, hang on a wall in an office.
Gretta's art hangs on the wall of the main conference room in NIJC's Chicago office.

NIJC’s LGBT Immigrant Rights Initiative first started representing Gretta as she fought for freedom during two years in immigration detention, and she has been a vocal advocate for justice for trans women asylum seekers in the United States. Visitors to NIJC’s Chicago office have seen her artwork, created during her detention and following her release, gracing our main conference room. Last year, we shared her letter to President Biden, in which she drew from her personal experience to recommend changes to make the immigration system more welcoming and just.

Following an eight-year battle to appeal an unreasonable immigration court decision that denied her protection, in September an immigration judge in California finally recognized that Gretta qualified for asylum from the persecution she had faced in Mexico based on her transgender identity. During this prolonged fight for justice, Gretta was not alone. A team of pro bono attorneys from Mayer Brown LLP, in collaboration with NIJC staff, supported her throughout the legal process.

The day after Gretta received the news, she spoke with NIJC Legal Supervisor Lee Vanderlinden to share her thanks. Watch Gretta’s message:

While fighting for justice in the immigration court system is inevitably life-changing for those whose own lives are directly on the line, the pro bono lawyers who represent them are often also deeply impacted by the experience. Chris Kelly, a lawyer at Mayer Brown’s Palo Alto office, shared his reflections the day after the immigration judge ruled in Gretta’s favor. Watch Chris’s message:

Gretta’s victory is a testament to the tenacity of NIJC’s clients and to the importance of sustained long-term legal advocacy until justice prevails. Our committed pro bonos make it possible to ensure that Gretta and the more than 9,000 other immigrants, and asylum seekers we represent each year, have the support they need to see their cases through.

If you or someone you know is interested in partnering with NIJC as a legal volunteer, see more information about being a pro bono attorney with NIJC.

Happy Pro Bono Week.

Ellen Miller is the pro bono manager at the National Immigrant Justice Center.