For the second consecutive year, Katten’s Chicago office hosted a clinic in August with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) for migrants seeking asylum in the United States, with 10 participating attorneys and eight Spanish-speaking business professionals who acted as interpreters.
In order to meet the needs of these migrants, mostly from Venezuela, NIJC replicated the pro bono asylum clinic model that was developed last year to assist Afghan refugees in Chicago. The model entails one full-day session with a volunteer law firm offering pro bono assistance to 10 clients. Katten was the first firm to participate in this model when NIJC partnered with the city’s Muslim Women’s Resource Center in May 2022. Ellen Miller, NIJC pro bono manager, praised Katten for being a reliable partner over the years. “The firm’s willingness to engage in new initiatives and support ongoing needs is invaluable for our community,” she said. “Katten’s support has helped us provide access to justice and ensure that all applicants are treated with dignity.”
Though there are not enough legal resources available for all asylum clients to receive full representation, senior counsel and director of pro bono services Jonathan Baum said these clinics provide an opportunity for migrants to receive legal counsel while drafting initial applications to take forward on their own. “It’s a very challenging problem for these migrants to not only make a living and survive here but also to secure the legal right to stay here,” he added. “So when we were asked to participate again this year and provide our own interpreters, I crossed my fingers and agreed. Then I put out a call for volunteers, and the response was tremendous.”
Jonathan emphasized that the best part of this year’s clinic was witnessing its meaningfulness to all those who volunteered their time and services. “Not only did they do an excellent job, but they were all thrilled to have the chance to participate,” he said.
Investment Management and Funds partner Jonah Roth had been looking out for such an opportunity after expressing interest in immigration-related pro bono projects through a periodic Katten survey for attorneys. “We helped participants complete asylum applications for submission so that they left prepared for the next stage of their process,” he said. “It was nice to know that we helped the migrants, many of whom did not speak much English, with the completion of forms that might be quite daunting for non-lawyers and non-native speakers.”
For Private Credit associate Timothy Brown, the clinic was his first experience with immigration law. “I had heard about the NIJC from a friend who worked there and thought it would be a great event to get involved with some pro bono work,” he said. “It definitely made me more willing and excited to participate in future clinics.”
Chicago Director of Office Administration Zulma Martinez and Legal Executive Assistant Rosie Gradilla were both contacted by Jonathan to provide translation services during the clinic and said the “rewarding” experience has inspired them to seek out future volunteer events. “This opportunity made me feel like I made a difference,” Rosie said. “I’m grateful that the firm is able to help people who are desperately seeking a solution to their problems, and feel honored to have played a small role in their journey to safety and a new life.”
Zulma noted that the clinic was her first time providing translation services and that she is eager for more opportunities to speak Spanish and assist with pro bono matters. “It warmed my heart, and I felt very grateful to be able to help,” she said. “The migrants’ bravery is awe-inspiring, and I hope for the most positive outcome for the amazing people we assisted.”