The Feerick Center held its 2016 FriendRaiser on the evening of Tuesday, April 5, in the beautiful Peggy Hill Faculty Meeting Room overlooking Lincoln Center. The event raised $19,000 from 131 donors to support service trips with law students through the CARA Pro Bono Project to Dilley, Texas.
After welcome remarks by Professor John D. Feerick, Dora Galacatos introduced Bree Bernwanger, director of the Feerick Center’s New York Unaccompanied Immigrant Children and Immigrant Families Project, who reflected on her two recent trips to Dilley, Texas. Bernwanger and seven other individuals from Fordham provided legal assistance to detained asylum-seeking women and their children who are facing expedited removal proceedings. The Fordham group counseled numerous women preparing for immigration interviews and hearings, many of whom had escaped brutality in their home countries in Central America. In the past few years, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have experienced dramatic increases in violence from powerful gangs that operate with impunity. Women from these areas flee both gang and family violence and they take their children with them to seek safety in the United States. Preparations for interviews with asylum officers are often very difficult for these women—most of whom have witnessed or endured unspeakable violence—because, as many of Bernwanger’s clients told her, “To tell it is to live it.”
Bernwanger then introduced Alex Mintz ’18, who spoke of the extraordinary impact that her participation in this volunteer activity had on her personal growth and her grasp of the importance that her legal studies can have in the world. Many of her classroom experiences now have meaning and context, she said.
Emerson Argueta ’18 spoke of his own experiences coming to America as a child and the realization that immigration advocates had been helpful to his family at times in the past. Emerson noted that he could play an important role by providing immigration legal assistance to others seeking asylum now and in the future.
Bernwanger reported that during their five days working with the CARA Pro Bono Project in Dilley, Fordham and other volunteers assisted 148 individuals in preparation for their interviews with asylum officers and assisted five with hearings in immigration court to appeal negative decisions, all of which were successful. Ninety-four women and children were released that week, in great part due to the efforts of the pro bono project; the project’s limited-scope clients have a release rate of well over 80%.
Thanks to the funds raised at the FriendRaiser reception the Feerick Center plans to send at least 20 Fordham Law students and center staff members to Dilley in June and August, and later next year in January and March to aid more individuals seeking asylum. Two Law School alumni helped secure an additional $25,000 grant to support both service trips and the center’s programmatic work related to family immigration detention.
Everyone at the Center gives their deepest thanks, once again, to the energetic committee of 60 recent Fordham Law graduates as well as Feerick Center volunteers and staff from the last nine years, who attracted a full house to the reception.