WASHINGTON, Oct. 17 /PRNewswire-HISPANIC PR WIRE/ — Microsoft Corp., internationally acclaimed actress Angelina Jolie, and more than 25 law firms and corporate law departments announced today the formation of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a new national children’s advocacy initiative with the mission of providing pro bono legal counsel to unaccompanied immigrant children in the United States so that they are treated fairly and compassionately in our immigration system.
Each year approximately 8,000 children who are separated from their families go through U.S. immigration proceedings. Today half of these children do so without legal representation. KIND aims to fill this gap by ensuring that all unaccompanied children get access to legal counsel in the immigration process.
“KIND is creating an innovative pro bono model, bringing together lawyers from companies and law firms in partnership with non-governmental organizations to meet the legal needs of an entire group of vulnerable children,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s General Counsel, who introduced the organization to a gathering in Washington, D.C. of more than 150 representatives from the legal community. “Through our support of KIND, we hope to inspire the participation of many more representatives of our legal community to offer these children the fundamental protection they need. Every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide pro bono legal services to those unable to pay.”
“These children often have nothing; no money, no support and no family, yet they come to America seeking its promises of a better life,” states Angelina Jolie. “But many end up becoming lost, traumatized, and ultimately forgotten. KIND provides each of them with the ability to have their legal rights protected and their voices heard.”
U.S. law provides no appointed counsel for unaccompanied children in immigration court proceedings. Without benefit of pro bono counsel, these children face difficulties in understanding the legal proceedings and legal options that may be available to them. This also creates added challenges for government attorneys and immigration judges who must evaluate these cases. Immigrant children who receive pro bono legal assistance, however, are more likely to experience favorable consideration from the court for asylum in the U.S.
“I applaud all those involved in the KIND initiative to help unaccompanied and undocumented children receive the legal representation they need to understand and exercise their basic legal rights while navigating our nation’s complex and intimidating immigration system,” Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34) said. Rep. Roybal-Allard is the author of the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act (HR 7255), which would establish legally enforceable immigration detention standards to ensure that all detainees, including children, are treated fairly and humanely while in custody.
As part of its professional commitment to pro bono work, Microsoft responded to this problem in Washington State five years ago by helping to establish Volunteer Advocates for Immigrant Justice (VAIJ). The effort brings together lawyers in companies and law firms with other civic groups in the Seattle area to provide pro bono legal assistance. In 2006 VAIJ was recognized by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service as integral in connecting with qualified pro bono attorneys to represent unaccompanied children in immigration court.
KIND’s immediate goal is to work closely with private law firms, corporate legal departments and their attorneys to recruit, train, and mentor attorneys to represent children in locations where KIND is located, including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Seattle, and Houston. By 2010, the organization’s goal is to represent more than 2,100 children annually: every unaccompanied child in KIND’s locations who would not otherwise have an attorney.
By partnering with Ms. Jolie, KIND will build on her extensive history of accomplishments as a Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and on her long-standing commitment to providing free legal aid to unaccompanied children as young as toddlers who lack any legal representation.
The new organization is seeking a variety of program volunteers, in addition to sources of funding and other support. Currently, KIND has received over $2 million in cash donations, and over 25 law firms and corporate law departments have committed to contributing more than 13,000 pro bono hours during KIND’s first year of operation. Law firms include Arnold & Porter LLP; Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersol LLP; Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP; Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP; Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP; Covington & Burling LLP; Crowell & Moring LLP; Davis Wright Tremaine LLP; Holland & Knight LLP; Howrey; K&L Gates; Latham & Watkins; Lowenstein Sandler PC; Morrison & Foerster LLC; Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP; Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP; Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP; Perkins Coie LLP; Shook Hardy & Bacon LLP; Sidley Austin; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP; Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom; Steptoe & Johnson; Sullivan & Cromwell LLP; Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP; White & Case LLP. In addition to Microsoft, the corporate legal departments of Merck & Co. and News Corporation are supporting KIND.
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) was conceived and started by Microsoft Corp. and actress Angelina Jolie with the mission of providing legal counsel to unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children in the United States, and ensuring that they are treated fairly and compassionately in our immigration system. KIND’s innovative pro bono network of law firms, corporate law departments, philanthropists, foundations and non-governmental organizations is committed to serving unaccompanied immigrant children in many areas of the country where the need is greatest, including Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, and the Northeast corridor of the U.S. For more information about how to become involved, please visit http://www.supportKIND.org.
SOURCE Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)