Roy Gilbert

‘I am the front line:’ Lawyers from big firms are wading into border chaos to help asylum-seekers


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Mexican-American labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, middle, joins human rights activist Kerry Kennedy (right, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy) in speeches during a rally at Archer Park in McAllen, Texas, on June 23, 2018. Joining them was Efren Olivares, left, a Texas civil rights attorney. (Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News/TNS) MATAMOROS, Mexico – Legal documents spilled from the arms of attorney Charlene D’Cruz as she led a Honduran mother cradling a limp toddler across the Rio Grande bridge.

The asylum-seeking mother needed to get her child, who had life-threatening sepsis, to a Brownsville hospital. D’Cruz successfully argued with border officials, cajoling them into allowing a humanitarian entry for the girl.

It was another must-do task for D’Cruz, a linchpin in an unusual movement in the U.S. justice system: Attorneys who have been operating along the border for years, often in small practices, are getting help from high-dollar corporate firms who are relatively new to the scene. The largely pro bono efforts come as the most restrictive changes in asylum and refugee policies in decades are leaving immigration attorneys across the U.S. buried in cases.

D’Cruz works from a no-frills office with a paper sign that reads: Proyecto Corazon, or Project Heart. The Mumbai-born Indian native speaks Spanish, Portuguese, French and English as she weeds through the cases of adults who come to her for help from the nearby squalid camp of up to 2,500 asylum-seekers. D’Cruz assists in farming out work to everyone from paralegals and translators to law school […]

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