Louisiana Bar Foundation Awards Grant To Help Immigrant Families

l to r: Jesse George, Managing Director for Direct Client Services, TBPB; LBF President Valerie Bargas; Jennifer Rizzo-Choi, Executive Director, TPBP

l to r: Jesse George, Managing Director for Direct Client Services, TBPB; LBF President Valerie Bargas; Jennifer Rizzo-Choi, Executive Director, TPBP

The Pro Bono Project was thrilled to accept a check on Thursday, May 18 from the Louisiana Bar Foundation’s Community Partnership Panel. The Project was awarded a $6,705 grant to begin a new program offering pro bono Provisional Custody By Mandate (PCBM) clinics for the immigrant population.

Right now, there is an acute need for this pro bono work. As you may know, The Project has done PCBM work for years – though only for U.S. citizens and other residents with lawful immigration status, due to some funding restrictions. As a result, the undocumented immigrant community was unable to receive these services. With the recent spate of deportation raids and other stepped up enforcement activities by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), immigrant families are fearful that they will be picked up by ICE and separated from their children.

"Throughout the country, we’ve seen cases where parents were detained by ICE agents right after they dropped their kids off at school, and subsequently deported. As you might suspect, this has created anxiety, confusion, and hysteria in the undocumented immigrant community.

"If no parent/legal guardian shows up after school to pick up their child, that child goes into state foster care. It can take weeks for a deported parent to get the notarized paperwork together overseas, get in touch with relatives in the US, and track down their child to transition care to someone outside of the foster care system," explains The Project's Executive Director, Jennifer Rizzo-Choi.

Thus, by putting a PCBM order in place, parents in danger of deportation can proactively designate relatives or friends to provide care for their children. The order allows a relative, neighbor, friend – whomever the parent trusts – to step into this situation and make decisions regarding schooling, health care, etc. It isn’t a solution to this complicated problem, but it hopefully puts the undocumented parent’s mind at ease about sending their kids to school.

We have no doubt that there will not be a shortage of clients seeking this service. In fact, we expect this need will continue to grow, especially since PCBM orders are only good for one year. So, while it is only a stop-gap measure, nonetheless, it is a very easy, effective, and efficient way to protect these children.

We currently are organizing some PCBM trainings to staff our clinics with volunteers and setting up a clinic schedule. We'll post dates and locations on our website and social media as soon as possible. In the meantime, if you have an interest in volunteering for the clinics and attending one of our trainings, please email volunteer@probono-no.org.

We are honored to be supported by LBF in doing this work and expanding the services that we can provide to a new population.