In 2006, Sidley established a second firmwide initiative, which is now known as the Political Asylum and Immigrants’ Rights Project. The Project was an outgrowth of the pro bono work many Sidley lawyers had undertaken over the years on behalf of immigrants, and fills a significant gap in legal services in light of recent heightened immigration enforcement efforts.
To support the Project, Sidley now has a centralized database of materials that includes all firm asylum cases handled since 2004. Sample forms and briefs, as well as useful descriptions of the source country situation, are available on the network. The firmwide Project, spearheaded by Chicago lawyer Mel Washburn, also includes training and mentoring (a list of experienced lawyers and translators is maintained on the network). Since the Project launched, the scope of the project has expanded beyond asylum cases to address other immigration matters, including Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), U visa and battered spouse waiver cases. To date, Sidley has undertaken 33 VAWA, U visa and battered spouse waiver cases. In 2007, Sidley lawyers in Chicago partnered with a local agency and in-house lawyers from firm client Exelon to host Asylee and Refugee Legal Assistance Clinics.
Since the inception of the Political Asylum and Immigrants' Rights Project, the firm has undertaken more than 90 new asylum matters. To date, the Project has obtained asylum for 24 individuals. Each domestic office has taken at least one new asylum case. These cases include appeals in the Second, Fourth, Seventh and Ninth Circuits. More than 100 Sidley lawyers are currently working on asylum cases in partnership with one or more local pro bono legal services organizations in each of the U.S. cities in which Sidley has an office, as described below. Through this initiative, Sidley has donated over 28,000 hours to work on behalf of asylum seekers and other immigrants, achieving success every month of 2008.
Dallas In Dallas, Sidley lawyers work with the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas (HRI). HRI was founded in 1999 to promote international human rights for refugees and immigrants who have suffered human rights abuses. HRI has successfully represented more than 1500 victims of human trafficking, persecution and violence against women. The HRI Women’s and Children’s Project is devoted to the legal protection of immigrant child victims of human rights abuses.
Chicago Sidley works with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). The NIJC, a partner of Heartland Human Care Services, is dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Thirty-nine lawyers in the Chicago office have taken on cases from NIJC.
New York Sidley works with Human Rights First and the City Bar Justice Center. Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization. The City Bar Justice Center is the pro bono affiliate of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Human Rights First's Refugee Protection Program and the City Bar Justice Center's Refugee Assistance Project recruit and train volunteer lawyers to represent asylum seekers who have suffered torture and other forms of persecution in their home countries and who are seeking political asylum in the United States.
Los Angeles Sidley partners with the Public Counsel Law Center on asylum cases. Public Counsel, the nation’s largest public interest pro bono law firm, provides volunteer legal services for the poor and underrepresented. Nine Sidley lawyers in LA have taken on immigrants’ rights or asylum matters from the Public Counsel Law Center.
San Francisco In San Francisco, Sidley partners with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR). LCCR's Asylum Program recruits and trains volunteer lawyers to represent indigent refugees seeking asylum. As of the end of 2007, nine lawyers in the San Francisco office had worked on matters that the LCCR referred to Sidley.
Washington, D.C. The Washington office has worked with three nonprofit organizations that refer immigrants rights and asylum matters to lawyers in the area: the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project (IRR Project) of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, and, as in New York, Human Rights First (described above). The IRR Project has deployed the talents of several thousand volunteer lawyers to protect the basic legal rights of immigrants and refugees throughout the D.C. metropolitan region. The IRR Project provides pro bono legal representation to individuals seeking asylum in the United States and promotes fair and equitable immigration laws and standards through policy advocacy and comments on proposed laws. CAIR Coalition provides services to the immigrant advocacy community in the greater Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. CAIR Coalition brings together community groups, pro bono lawyers, volunteers and immigrants to work for a fair and humane immigration policy. CAIR Coalition provides individuals and organizations representing immigrants education and training services, public policy development leadership, forums for sharing information, legal support services and other empowerment programs. By the end of 2007, thirteen Sidley lawyers in D.C. had taken on cases from these three organizations.