In 2006, Sidley established a second firmwide initiative, which is now known as the Political Asylum and Immigrants’ Rights Project. Sidley established this pro bono initiative to help indigent asylum seekers and other indigent immigrants seeking legal status in the United States. Since the Project launched, the scope of the project has expanded beyond asylum cases to address other immigration matters, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), U visa and battered spouse waiver cases, adjustments to lawful permanent residence, and representation of immigrant minors in Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) cases. The firmwide Project, spearheaded by Chicago lawyer Mel Washburn and New York lawyer Martin Gold, is managed by lawyer Kelly Huggins.
The Project also has provided Sidley lawyers with an opportunity to work together with legal departments of the firm’s clients to deliver pro bono legal services. Since 2007, with the assistance of the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), Sidley’s Chicago office has hosted quarterly clinics with our client Exelon to help asylees and refugees obtain lawful permanent resident status and bring family members to the United States. Working with the legal department of another Sidley client and the National Immigrant Justice Center, Sidley also has hosted clinics to provide legal assistance to immigrants applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the new form of relief the Obama Administration announced in an Executive Order in 2012.
Federal law provides that individuals who have suffered or fear persecution in their home country based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or social group may apply for asylum in the United States. The VAWA self-petition is a remedy for immigrant victims married to abusive U.S. citizens and green card holders. Successful VAWA self-petitioners are granted employment authorization and lawful status in the United States on an annual basis until they receive legal permanent residency. The U visa is a remedy for immigrant victims of certain crimes who have helped with the investigation or prosecution of those crimes. Successful U visa petitioners receive employment authorization and lawful status in the U.S. for four years and become eligible to apply for lawful permanent residency. SIJS petitions provide immigration relief to immigrant minors who have been abused or neglected in their native countries.
For recent Political Asylum and Immigrants’ Rights Project cases, go to page 18 of the 2015 Pro Bono and Community Service Report.