Frequently Asked Questions

Please take a moment to review the following information regarding SIFI’s current opportunities for pro bono attorneys and non-attorney volunteers. Please email SIFI if you have any questions.

For all Volunteers

What are the various volunteer opportunities?

There are two separate phases of volunteering.

  • Release Phase (pro bono attorneys and non-attorney volunteers): Attorneys and bilingual or monolingual volunteers may assist with all aspects of SIFI’s efforts to advocate on behalf of detainees held at one of the locations SIFI serves in rural Georgia or Louisiana.
    • On-the-ground volunteer opportunities: We’re seeking pro bono attorneys and non-attorney volunteers who are bilingual (English-Spanish) to help meet with immigrant detainees. In some circumstances, there may be opportunities for a non-attorney volunteer who does not speak Spanish.
    • Remote team: Volunteers may provide remote support to SIFI’s on-the-ground staff and volunteers. We will contact you if there is an assignment that matches the skills and interests you have listed in your application.
  • Merits Phase (pro bono attorneys only): Attorneys will represent individual detained immigrants in applications for immigration relief, merits proceedings (i.e. asylum, cancellation of removal, U visa), through appeals and until final resolution of a case. 

In the past, SIFI referred to Phases 1, 2 and 3. What happened to those phases?

Court observation, formerly known as Phase 1, concluded in April 2017 with pro bono attorneys having observed more than 450 immigration hearings. Phase 2 is now the Release Phase, and Phase 3 is the Merits Phase.

Do I need to come to a SIFI office for several consecutive days?

Release Phase attorneys traveling to a SIFI office must be at a SIFI office for five consecutive days – Monday through Friday. (More information here).

Non-attorney volunteers are not required to sign up for five-day shifts and can sign up for single-day shifts. We encourage you to sign up for however many days is convenient for your schedule.

Can SIFI provide financial assistance to volunteers?

Limited travel grants for pro bono attorneys working at nonprofit organizations and non-attorney volunteers may be provided. You can apply as you register within our volunteer database. If you have already registered and are interested in a travel grant, or if you have any questions, please email SIFI.

Additionally, individuals seeking to volunteer in the Lumpkin or Ocilla office may have the option to stay in modest housing near the detention center, free of cost.

If I’m traveling for the Release Phase, where will I sleep? What will I eat? How will I get there?

Once your shift has been confirmed, the SIFI team will email a logistics guide that provides details about appropriate airports, rental car services, hotels and restaurants.

What happens after I’ve indicated my availability on the schedule?

You will receive an email confirming that a member of the SIFI team has reviewed your application and wishes to further process it. This can take some time, so please do not make travel arrangements until the SIFI team has confirmed your shift. We appreciate your patience throughout the process.

Once your volunteer shift has been confirmed, you should expect to receive additional orientation materials and schedule information approximately one week prior to your arrival.

If you have any questions after you’ve submitted your application, please email SIFI.

Where is there a greatest need for volunteers?

All of our sites depend on volunteers, and we encourage you to select a site that is convenient based on your location and/or schedule. Note: In Folkston, GA we are currently able to readily host non-Spanish speaking pro bono attorneys and encourage you to sign up here.

For Pro Bono Attorneys

The SIFI Guide for Pro Bono Counsel provides additional details about each of the opportunities to work with SIFI.

Do I need experience in immigration law to volunteer?

No. We encourage attorneys with immigration law experience to volunteer, but experience is not required for Release Phase attorneys. SIFI will provide continuous training and mentorship.

For pro bono attorneys volunteering at one of our detention centers, SIFI will provide training materials by email prior to your arrival. In addition, there will be a comprehensive orientation and training provided on Monday mornings.

If you would like to volunteer as a Merits Phase attorney and don’t have trial experience or experience in immigration law, we ask that you first volunteer in the Release Phase. Interpreter volunteers also do not need experience in immigration law; on-the-ground orientation will be provided.

As an attorney, do I need to be bilingual?

No. Proficiency in Spanish, Haitian Creole, Arabic, Hindi, French or Urdu (or another language) is helpful for Release Phase attorneys but is not required. If a Release Phase attorney does not speak a foreign language, the SIFI team will pair them with an interpreter or arrange for interpretation, as needed.

If you know an English-Spanish speaking non-attorney that would be interested in working with you as a SIFI volunteer, we encourage you to bring them with you to a SIFI office.

Merits Phase attorneys who are not bilingual should plan to arrange for interpreter and/or translator services.

Do I need to be admitted to the Georgia or Louisiana bar?

No. Attorneys may be required to apply for admission to the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), but the SIFI team will help facilitate this process. More information can be found here.

Merits Phase attorneys may also be required to be admitted pro hac vice to Article III courts for litigation (such as habeas petitions) or appeal. If necessary, the SIFI team can provide additional information. 

What if I am an attorney but no longer have an active law license?

We need your help and encourage you to volunteer within the Release Phase for a five-day shift. Please note that because attorneys are required to have an active law license when practicing within the immigration courts, we ask that you identify that you no longer have an active law license within your application. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this in greater detail, please email SIFI.

Will I be the attorney of record for the individuals I work with?

Attorneys working in the Release Phase do not enter retainers with the immigrant detainees with whom they meet; SIFI staff attorneys will remain the attorneys of record for all clients.

Merits Phase attorneys will be required to enter into a retainer agreement with their client and should expect to be the attorney of record for their client.

As a Merits Phase attorney will I get to select the case I work on?

Yes. SIFI’s lead Merits Phase attorney will work with interested pro bono attorneys to match them with a case. Release Phase attorneys seeking to represent a client in the Merits Phase after their volunteer shift will also have the option to take the case of a client they have worked with during their week at the detention center.

As a Release Phase attorney, do I need to come to a SIFI office for several consecutive days?

Release Phase attorneys traveling to a SIFI office must commit for a five-day shift – Monday through Friday. In-person orientation will begin early on Monday morning.

Because volunteer attorneys must be on the ground at a SIFI office for at least five days, law firms and/or organizations may consider sending more than one attorney to fill a single volunteer slot. This will allow attorneys some time during the day to address non-SIFI work obligations. If you are interested in this option, please email SIFI.

Do I need malpractice insurance?

We encourage Release Phase attorneys to be covered by malpractice insurance, but it is not required to participate in the Release Phase casework.

Merits Phase attorneys must have malpractice coverage.

Do I need access to WestLaw or Lexis?

Release Phase attorneys should have access to WestLaw or Lexis, though the SIFI team can provide credentials in limited circumstances. Merits Phase attorneys must have their own WestLaw or Lexis access.

Do I have to participate in both of the SIFI phases?

No. We encourage (but do not require) Release Phase attorneys to take a case through the Merits Phase.

Do Merits Phase attorneys represent clients in their appeals?

Yes. Merits Phase attorneys should plan to represent detainees until the claim reaches its final resolution. We will consider applications from those who can commit only to the appellate phase of a case, but we cannot guarantee placement.

Can a group of attorneys volunteer on the ground at a SIFI office?

Yes. We would be happy to arrange group trips for pro bono attorneys (up to four attorneys per week per site). If you are interested in exploring this, please email SIFI.

For non-attorneys

Is there a need for non-attorney volunteers?

Yes. We need interpreters (particularly English-Spanish) on the ground at a SIFI office, remote translators and paralegal assistance. Non-attorney volunteers can sign up through the volunteer application.

If I am a non-attorney, Spanish-speaking volunteer, what will I do at the SIFI office?

Spanish-English speaking individuals are crucial to our work. Bilingual advocates can expect to be paired with pro bono attorneys to conduct client meetings and intakes within the detention center. Additionally, in the SIFI office, bilingual advocates may have the opportunity to help translate documents, communicate with client’s family members, assist with document collection in foreign countries, and any other tasks that may arise.

Would it be possible to test my Spanish to ensure I can serve as an interpreter-volunteer for SIFI?

Yes. We encourage volunteers interested in serving as Spanish interpreters to email SIFI to set up a time to briefly speak with a member of our team.

Please note that we do not require prior interpretation experience and/or certification. Upon request, we would be happy to provide a glossary of legal terms before your arrival.

I am not an attorney and don’t speak Spanish but would like to travel and volunteer on the ground. Can I help?

If you feel comfortable with technology and would be able to help with administrative support tasks such as creating filings, data entry, scanning documents or mailings, we always have a need for support and encourage you to email SIFI with your availability and the skills you would bring to our SIFI office.

As a non-attorney bilingual advocate, do I need to commit to a five-day shift?

Non-attorney volunteers are not required to sign up for five-day shifts and can sign up for single- day shifts. However, we encourage you to sign up for however many days is convenient for your schedule.