Pro Bono Spotlight: Ropes & Gray Aids Families Separated at the U.S. – Mexico Border

When the U.S. government announced its “zero tolerance” policy for controlling U.S. borders in April 2018, it quickly created panic and confusion at the country’s southern border. Throughout the summer, Ropes & Gray sent teams of attorneys and staff, including paralegals and translators, to detention centers in Texas each week to work with immigrant families.
The firm’s team worked with the Texas Civil Rights Project, RAICES and KIND, nonprofit legal organizations, to represent particularly vulnerable immigrant families. With each successive week of work, Ropes & Gray attorneys developed greater knowledge about family reunification and advised clients on all aspects of their immigration cases, including credible fear interviews and proceedings before immigration judges.
From on the ground efforts, the firm began to represent more than 30 families – about 70 individuals - from the Port Isabel and Karnes detention centers in South Texas. The Ropes & Gray Border Initiative team includes more than 130 attorneys, as well as summer associates, paralegals and other support team members, who have so far devoted more than 9,000 pro bono hours to the firm’s efforts in Texas, which helped reunify all the families we represent and secured the release of all from immigration detention. The work involved mobilizing Ropes & Gray’s network, including attorneys and staff from 10 offices, and even alumni who now serve as in-house counsel and professors. Now, our clients have relocated to cities around the United States. Ropes & Gray continues to represent them in collaboration with local agencies and in some cases local firms to get them help on the ground.
“The challenges at the border presented unprecedented issues from a legal perspective, and also from a human rights perspective: no mother or father should ever be forcibly separated from his or her child,” Boston-based co-chair of Ropes & Gray’s pro bono committee Jenny Rikoski said. “Having worked on immigration and asylum cases for over a decade, I immediately asked ‘how can we apply our knowledge and resources in an effective manner to solve this crisis.’ While our work is ongoing, it’s gratifying to know that our team has been able to provide immediate support and guidance to the families we served, and to those we continue to serve.”

Ms. Rikoski was recently named a 2018 “Lawyer of the Year” by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly in recognition of her work leading Ropes & Gray’s Border Initiative, among other accomplishments.