What Can I Do? (Part I)

Support Legal Defense for Asylum Seekers and Detained Immigrants


At last count, 2,342 children were separated from their parents under the US’s immigration enforcement policy. An executive order has redirected federal officials to “maintain family unity” by “detaining alien families together”-- a change that, while better than separation, continues to victimize asylum seekers and traumatize children. Further, the executive order provides no clear directive for reunification of the more than 10,000 detained children with their families.

Shocked and disgusted by the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers at the southern border, the number one question I hear is, “What can I do?”

This is the first of four posts answering that question in more depth.

‍What can you do to help families being separated and detained at the border? Support legal defense, provide humanitarian aid, demand political action, and educate yourself and others on the bigger, systemic issues.

Support Legal Defense

In immigration proceedings, you do not have the right to an attorney unless you can pay for one. That means that individuals facing deportation—including separated/unaccompanied children—are expected to act as their own attorney in a system frequently described as “death penalty cases in a traffic court setting.”

I have personally witnessed children as young as 18-months-old listed as their own attorney during immigration proceedings. Add to this appalling reality the fact that proceedings are conducted in a language they do not speak (with limited translation) and the vast majority of these children are severely traumatized.

In 2016, the assistant chief immigration judge, Jack H. Weil, famously claimed,

“I've taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience. . . . They get it. It's not the most efficient, but it can be done.”


Before implementing the family separation policies at the border, the administration also pulled the limited funding supporting organizations that provide free and low-cost legal representation to unaccompanied children. That means organizations that had been providing free and low-cost legal representation to these children had to stop taking new cases right before over 2,000 kids were pushed into the system alone and traumatized.

There is a huge need to support legal services organizations fighting on the legal front lines. A handful of organizations like the CARA, KIND, The Florence Project, and the RAICES have already been working hard at the border and have gotten a lot of publicity and support in the past few weeks. Here’s a list of additional organizations that need your help.

Remember, after being separated, children and parents are being sent to immigration detention centers around the country, often thousands of miles from each other. I’ve included several regional orgs, but you should also look up your local legal services organizations here and see who needs your support.

My Top 5

ALDEA - The People's Justice Center serves families detained in Berks Detention Center in PA. This organization is completely run by volunteer attorneys who have other full time jobs.

The Immigrant Defenders Law Center focus on representing the most marginalized immigrants, including children in immigration detention.

The folks from Innovation Law Labs lead the fight to end family detention in Artesia, NM and continues to provide direct services and technology support for legal defense of children and families.

The Santa Fe Dreamers Project provides pro bono representation to trans women who are all sent to a single detention center in New Mexico.

The Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights advocates for many of the separated and unaccompanied children at the border.

The Big List

The ACLU is is leading the fight through impact litigation in federal court.

ActBlue's Kids at the Border lets you donate simultaneously to 12 different organizations at the same time.

Al Otro Lado serves indigent deportees, migrants, and refugees in Tijuana & Los Angeles.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association is a key partner in the CARA Pro Bono Project that coordinates volunteer effort serving detained children and families.

Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project providing asylum seekers with legal aid and community support across the country.

Border Angels provides immigration legal services in San Diego in addition to community education and awareness programs.

CARA Pro Bono Project is a coordinated volunteer effort serving children and families detained in the Dilley detention center. This is a joint effort between the American Immigration Lawyers Association, The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the American Immigration Council, and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.

Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC) has a project called Defending Vulnerable Populations, which offers case assistance to hundreds of smaller, local organizations that help migrant families and children.

The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project strives to ensure that detained children and adults have access to counsel, understand their rights under immigration law, and are treated fairly and humanely by our judicial system.

Fuerza Del Valle organizing workers & immigrant communities in the Rio Grande Valley

Human Rights First is helping refugees obtain asylum in the U.S.

The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) organizes law students and lawyers to develop and enforce a set of legal and human rights for refugees and displaced persons.

Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) defends the rights of unaccompanied immigrant or refugee children and ensures they can not appear in court without high quality legal representation.

La Union del Pueblo Entero founded by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, a community union that works in the Rio Grande Valley from the grassroots up.

Las Americas provides legal representation to low income immigrants, including refugees, victims of crime, and families seeking reunification.

The Legal Aid Justice Center is a Virginia-based nonprofit providing unaccompanied children legal services and representation.

One Justice is helping to coordinate a state-wide rapid response in California to ensure all people in immigration proceedings have access to legal counsel.

The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center represents all of the immigrant kids who the US government put in foster care in Michigan. Most of their current clients are separated minors. The nonprofit works to find their parents and formulate next steps.

The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project is defending the rights of immigrants through legal services, policy advocacy, and community education.

The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) the largest immigration nonprofit in Texas that provides free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrants.

The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network provides legal representation to immigrant children and their families who have been victims of abuse, neglect, abandonment, trafficking, and violence. They work with those detained in Aurora, Colorado.

The Texas Civil Rights Project supplies lawyers who speak Spanish and native Central American languages to migrants on trial in Texas.

Together Rising is organizing "Love Flash Mob" fundraising in support of organizations likes KIND and RAISES to help get babies – who were torn from their families at the border – back into their parents’ arms.

United We Dream the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country.

We Belong Together is a  women-led organization for common sense immigration policies.

The Women’s Refugee Commission is advocating for the rights and protection of women, children, and youth fleeing violence and persecution.

Who did we miss? Submit additional organizations to include on this list.

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Torchlight Legal is NOT a 501(c)3 charity and donations are NOT tax deductible.

TorchLight Legal Communications is launching a series of articles and media resources to provide clear, understandable information about what is happening at our southern border today, what it means for civil liberties, and what we can do. There will be resources for refugees and other immigrants, U.S.-based allies, and those seeking to become allies.

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