Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative

The Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative provides pro bono legal representation to immigrants detained in the southeastern United States

 

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.

Click here for Frequently Asked Questions

If you are an attorney interested in volunteering your services to the SIFI, 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 will observe 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.
  • 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.
  • Phase 3: Pro bono attorneys will represent individual detained immigrants in applications for defensive relief, merits proceedings, and appeals.

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. 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).

Do I need to come to Stewart for several consecutive days? Attorneys interested in volunteering for Phase 1 are encouraged to come for several days to maximize resources.  That said, volunteer attorneys may volunteer for just one day at a time, in particular if they live close by. 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).

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 may participate in Phase 2, but will focus on intakes and OTG support work.

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 (for example, we are working on finding limited accommodations in Lumpkin so attorneys will not need to drive in from Columbus or other cities or towns).  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 me (Dan Werner) at daniel.werner@splcenter.org and Laura Rivera at laura.rivera@splcenter.org with any questions.  If you have questions specifically regarding Phase 1, you also may email Shana Tabak at stabak@gsu.edu

Once I’ve indicated my availability on the schedule, what will happen next?  Once you have indicated your availability through the calendars for Phase 1 and Phase 2, you will be contacted by a SIFI Staff member to confirm the dates when your time is most needed. For Phase 2, we also will ask that you complete an application so we can 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 you have indicated your availability for Phase 1, and/or once you have done so for Phase 2 and we have reviewed your application, you will receive training materials, training videos, a logistics guide, 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 daniel.werner@splcenter.org 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 Sign-Up.

Do I need to sign up for an account on supersaas.com to sign up on the schedule?

Yes. Once you complete the SIFI Sign-Up form, we will send you a link to the SIFI scheduling page on supersaas.com. You will need to set up a supersaas.com account. It is simple, quick, and free.

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. More information on becoming admitted to the EOIR eRegistry can be found here.