Winter Break Pro Bono 2024

The Mithoff Pro Bono Program started 2024 off strong, providing students with three pro bono opportunities during the week before the start of the spring semester. Two of the projects were led by Texas Law faculty members whose work with the students was supported by stipends funded with the generous support of the G. Rollie White Trust.

Pro Bono Opportunities Supported by the G. Rollie White Trust

Immigration Clinic volunteers take a break from preparing asylum applications. Pictured (l-r) Maddy Bolger ’24, Miriam Jewell ‘25, and Angelina Ramirez ‘26

Eight students spent the week in Austin working under the supervision of Texas Law Immigration Clinic faculty members Denise Gilman and Elissa Steglich. “We counseled asylum-seeking families to prepare them for credible fear interviews with an asylum officer. To do this, we learned about the situations that caused them to leave their home countries and issues they encountered at the border,” explained 2L Maddy Bolger. “As someone who hasn’t done much immigration work in the past, I learned how difficult the asylum/immigration process is to navigate for people who have just recently gone through some of the worst situations in their lives.”

“My partner and I prepared three women for their credible fear interviews with an asylum officer,” said 3L Araceli Garcia, who also worked with the Immigration Clinic faculty over the week. “These mothers are part of a new process called Family Expedited Removal Management (FERM). Under this program, the head of household is given an ankle monitor and a curfew, and must check in with ICE daily via phone in addition to weekly in-person check-ins with ICE.”

Immigration Clinic volunteers worked in teams on asylum cases. Pictured (l-r) Maryn Rolfson ’25 and Araceli Garcia ‘24

At the end of the week, the group traveled to San Antonio to observe Immigration Court proceedings and meet with Texas Law Immigration Clinic alumni. “One woman we counseled, an attorney in her home country, came to the U.S. with her child escaping intimate partner violence. In addition to preparing her for her credible fear interview, we were also able to accompany her to her first in-person check-in appointment with ICE while we were in San Antonio,” said Garcia. “This experience was incredibly eye-opening and powerful. The harrowing experiences of the FERM families, both in their home countries and as they try to navigate the complicated, and often hostile, immigration system in the U.S., highlights how critical it is for them to have legal guidance. I’m grateful to the Texas Law Immigration Clinic and Mithoff Pro Bono Program for the opportunity to serve these families.”

In addition, five students worked remotely under the supervision of writing faculty member Julie Wimmer to start researching and drafting sections of a resource manual for immigration law practitioners in the Fifth Circuit. This project, which Wimmer is working on in collaboration with the Texas Immigration Law Council, will continue through March. “We had our initial meeting with Professor Wimmer to learn about the project and to receive our first assignments. Since then, I have reviewed my portion of the immigration manual and looked at secondary sources about asylum law,” said 2L Eliot Schulte. “Public resources for attorneys working at non-profit organizations are incredibly important, and I am really excited to help create this resource for attorneys in the Fifth Circuit.”

Pro Bono Opportunities Provided by ProBAR

ProBAR volunteers at the U.S. – Mexico border

Finally, six students traveled to Harlingen, Texas to spend the week working with the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR), which serves immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley border region. “We received training on immigration law from ProBAR staff and helped noncitizens apply for work permits,” explained 1L Will Lavallo. “Twice we went to the Port Isabel Detention Center, where we observed ProBAR staff give a general orientation to noncitizens who had been detained. While there, I also shadowed a ProBAR attorney in one-on-one interviews. I was allowed to jump in and ask any questions and to help explain certain steps in the process.”

“I am considering working outside a big city. I appreciated seeing what life is like in Harlingen and Brownsville,” said Lavallo. “Most significantly, I won’t forget the trips to the Port Isabel Detention Center and hearing noncitizens’ harrowing stories firsthand.  As a future public interest lawyer, I am a little closer to understanding and empathizing with future clients.”

First year student Shelby Alexander also noted the impact of attending one-on-one meetings at the detention center: “It was difficult to meet and witness so many people who had faced violence in their home countries and along their journey to the United States now stuck in detention, knowing the statistical likelihood that they will be deported after being churned through a complicated, unjust system,” said Alexander. “However, it was an incredibly inspiring experience to see the relentless efforts of ProBAR staff, who provide comprehensive and compassionate support to so many people in the face of so many challenges. I’m extremely grateful to everyone at ProBAR and Texas Law’s Mithoff Pro Bono Program who made this experience possible.”

“It was wonderful to see students use part of their time off from classes to perform meaningful pro bono work,” said Andrea Marsh, director of the Mithoff Program. “The Mithoff Program is deeply grateful to the faculty members and ProBAR attorneys who made these intensive experiences possible, and to the G. Rollie White Trust for supporting faculty participation in winter break pro bono.”

Students who volunteered with the Immigration Clinic faculty traveled to San Antonio to observe Immigration Court and meet with Immigration Clinic alumni. Pictured (l-r) Araceli Garcia ‘24, Professor Elissa Steglich, Hudson Kyle ‘18, Justin Tullius ‘07, Professor Denise Gilman, Maryn Rolfson ‘25, Alejandra Chavira ‘24, Angelina Ramirez ‘26, Marissa Bucci ‘26, Anna Roberson ‘20, Briana Perez ‘17