The Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) provides pro bono legal representation to immigrants detained in the southeastern United States. By ensuring that skilled attorneys are available, at no charge, to protect the due process rights of detained immigrants, SIFI endeavors to win every meritorious deportation defense case arising out of recent and anticipated immigration enforcement actions.
The project is led by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It will begin at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, in collaboration with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Immigration Council, the Innovation Law Lab and the American Immigration Representation Project. It will then be expanded to other immigrant detention centers throughout the Southeast.
Draconian immigration enforcement – long practiced in the U.S. – is being ramped up by the Trump administration, driven not by facts but by the rhetoric of hate and fear.
Immigrants caught up in the dragnet deserve fair and humane treatment. They have a right to due process under the U.S. Constitution.
But their rights are frequently denied in an enforcement regime that lacks transparency and is characterized by racial profiling and illegal searches, surveillance and arrests. Many immigrants, split from their families, are detained indefinitely in geographically isolated facilities – some operated for profit by private corporations – and live under cruel conditions with no trial, conviction or ability to post bond.
Nearly all of these detained immigrants lack attorney representation, often because they lack resources. When they have no attorney during immigration court proceedings, the court’s desire for expediency, and at times the judge’s ideology, take precedence over fundamental rights.
In fact, detained immigrants who do have counsel are 10 times as likely to succeed in their cases as those who represent themselves.
Many unrepresented immigrants seek asylum because of persecution in their home country. For them, having an attorney and winning their cases are a matter of life or death.
By providing pro bono attorneys to all detained immigrants in the Southeast, the SIFI not only ensures that due process is protected but holds law enforcement, immigration prosecutors and judges, and detention facility personnel accountable for their actions.
Many of the men, women and children in detention are fleeing uncontrolled and escalating violence in their home countries. Others have been our neighbors, employees, fellow church members or classmates – part of the fabric of our communities for years.
Their lives, families and futures are on the line. They must be afforded basic human rights.
And we must protect our nation’s most fundamental values.
We are no longer looking for volunteers for Phase 1. If you are an attorney interested in volunteering your services for SIFI Phase 2, please sign up below.
Frequently Asked Questions:
In your materials, you refer to three SIFI phases. What are those phases, and how do I learn more about the role of pro bono attorneys in each phase? The three SIFI phases are:
- Phase 1: Pro bono attorneys observed immigration court proceedings at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia with the goal of increasing court accountability and to document problems with access to counsel; equal treatment of pro se litigants; and the conduct of interpreters, counsel, and judges. The four weeks of Phase 1 ended on April 14, 2017. The Phase 1 pro bono attorneys observed over 450 immigration hearings. As SIFI expands to other detention centers in the Southeast, we expect to implement Phase 1 at other immigration courts.
- Phase 2: Pro bono attorneys will spend six days on the ground at the Stewart Detention Center – or at other detention centers as SIFI expands – completing intakes, providing bond representation, and working on initial preparation of cases. The first group of pro bono attorneys will start on April 23, 2017.
- Phase 3: Pro bono attorneys will represent individual detained immigrants in applications for defensive relief, merits proceedings, and appeals. Phase 3 will start in mid-May 2017.
The SIFI Guide for Pro Bono Counsel provides additional details about each of the phases.
Do I need to be admitted to the bar in Georgia? In order to participate in Phase 1, Phase 2, or Phase 3, you do not need to be barred in Georgia. Phase 1 attorneys will not be representing clients. Phase 2 attorneys are required to be admitted to the bar in any state. The Immigration Court at Stewart Detention Center, like all courts within the Executive Office of Immigration Review, requires admission to any state bar because immigration law is federal and administered through federal agencies. Phase 2 attorneys will be required to become admitted to EOIR and are encouraged to do so prior to arrival. In addition to completing the EOIR eRegistry form, attorneys seeking admission to the EOIR must appear at an EOIR location (generally, an immigration court) to complete the required USDOJ identification validation process. More information on becoming admitted to the EOIR eRegistry can be found here.
Phase 3 attorneys also will need to be admitted to the EOIR eRegistry. Phase 3 attorneys can get admitted pro hac vice to Article III courts for litigation (such as habeas petitions) and appeals, though some restrictions and fees apply. Admission rules for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia (where Stewart Detention Center is located) can be found here. Admission rules for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit are here (note that an attorney can get admitted pro hac vice on only two cases in the 11th Circuit).
How long will the three Phases of SIFI continue? The four weeks of Phase 1 court observation at the Stewart Detention Center ended on April 14, 2017. As SIFI expands to other detention centers in the Southeast, we expect to implement Phase 1 at other immigration courts.
Phase 2 and Phase 3 are long-term commitments; we expect they will continue as long as the need exists. Pro bono attorneys will become even more critical to the success of SIFI as it expands to other detention centers. If your law firm would consider committing to a rotating schedule for Phase 2 (for example, staffing one week on the ground every two months), please email SIFI.
Do I need to come to Stewart for several consecutive days? Attorneys interested in volunteering for Phase 2 should commit to being in Lumpkin for six days (a Sunday training followed by five days of on-the-ground intakes and representation). Though attorneys must be on the ground for six days, law firms may consider sending more than one attorney to fill a single volunteer slot. This will allow the firm’s attorneys some time during the day to handle ongoing non-SIFI work obligations. If you are interested in this option, please email SIF.
Do I need malpractice insurance? Attorney volunteers for Phase 1 do not need malpractice insurance, since the central task will be observation and documentation, rather than representation of immigrants. We prefer that attorney volunteers for Phase 2 be covered by malpractice insurance, but it is not a requirement. Attorneys without malpractice insurance will be able to participate in all aspects of Phase 2.
Do I need access to WestLaw or Lexis? Attorney volunteers for Phase 1 do not need access to WestLaw or Lexis, since the central task will be observation and documentation, rather than representation of immigrants. We prefer that attorney volunteers for Phase 2 have access to WestLaw or Lexis. We may be able to get some WestLaw or Lexis licenses donated for attorneys who do not have access to an account.
Where will I sleep? What will I eat? How will I get there? Click here to download the current SIFI Logistics Guide. Some of the details in the Logistics Guide will change. There are limited free accommodations available for attorneys with limited financial resources. Once you have been scheduled to volunteer, we will provide more information about logistics. We are also happy to answer other questions you might have. Please do not make travel plans until we have confirmed your volunteer slot.
Who can I email with additional questions? Please email SIFI with any questions.
Once I’ve indicated my availability on the schedule, what will happen next? Once you have indicated completed your Phase 2 application, you will be contacted by a SIFI staff member to confirm the dates when your time is most needed. The Phase 2 application is designed to place attorneys in shifts with a cross-section of language skills and experience, and to ensure the attorney volunteers can meet SIFI’s ethical guidelines. Once we have reviewed your Phase 2 application and confirmed your participation, you will receive training materials, training videos, a logistics guide, a schedule to participate in a mandatory webinar, and additional travel information. Please do not make travel arrangements until we have confirmed your shift and instructed you to do so.
Do I have to participate in all three SIFI phases? No. As a volunteer attorney, you can participate in any of the SIFI phases. However, we recommend that volunteer attorneys who have never appeared in front of an Immigration Judge observe immigration court proceedings — either independently or through SIFI Phase 1 — before taking part in Phase 2 and/or Phase 3. We also encourage (but do not require) Phase 2 attorney volunteers to take one case through Phase 3.
Do I need immigration law experience to volunteer as an attorney for Phase 2 or Phase 3? No. While we encourage attorneys with immigration law experience to join SIFI Phase 2 and/or Phase 3, immigration law experience is not required. SIFI will provide training and mentorship for Phase 2 and Phase 3 volunteer attorneys.
Is there a need for non-attorney volunteers? Yes. While we are not opening the sign-up process to non-attorneys, we will need interpreters (particularly English-Spanish and English Haitian Creole, but also other languages) and some paralegal assistance. We will work with attorneys who have signed up for SIFI, as well as other pro bono partners, to locate non-attorney volunteers who are available to fill these roles.
How do I remove myself from the email list? Please email email@example.com if you would like to be removed from the email list.
I can't travel, but I am available to do research and writing. Is there a way I can help? We may periodically need additional attorneys to help with research and writing. If you are not able to travel but are available to help with research and writing, please indicate this in your answer to "Briefly, why are you interested in participating?" on the SIFI application.
How do I get an EOIR eRegistry Account? Phase 2 attorneys will be required to become admitted to EOIR and are encouraged to do so prior to arrival. In addition to completing the EOIR eRegistry form, attorneys seeking admission to the EOIR must appear at an EOIR location (generally, an immigration court) to complete the required USDOJ identification validation process. More information on becoming admitted to the EOIR eRegistry can be found here.