A recent gift by alumni to support a project that helps asylum-seeking women is quite literally a lifesaver.
Since June 2014, a surge of unaccompanied minors and women with small children fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala has created a humanitarian crisis. Once these children and mothers cross the border into the United States, some of them are placed in expedited removal proceedings and are brought to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, where they await their credible or reasonable fear interviews, the first hurdle in the asylum-seeking process.
Fordham Law alumni Scott FitzGerald ’92 and Michael Turansick ’82, both partners at Fragomen, recently gave gifts to support the work of Fordham Law’s Feerick Center for Social Justice and the student-run Immigration Advocacy Project; members of both groups travel regularly to Dilley to help prepare the women for their interviews. The center’s executive director, Dora Galacatos ’96, has said the gifts will go a long way in funding transportation, lodging, and food for future trips to Dilley for Fordham Law students, faculty, alumni, translators, and other key volunteers. “It is an especially powerful and transformational experience for our students to see the power of an attorney,” Galacatos said. “Our volunteers have assisted hundreds of clients, and it has been challenging to have enough volunteers to meet the need on the ground.” More than 96 percent of the clients assisted by the Dilley Pro Bono Project receive positive determinations by asylum officers and are released to the community to defend themselves in removal proceedings in immigration court.
Fragomen has been sending attorneys to Dilley for years to assist with paperwork and prepare asylum-seekers for their credible fear interviews. Fragomen sends 12 to 15 attorneys to Dilley every year for a week—what the firm calls Fragomen Week at Dilley—where attorneys can expect to put in at least 12 hours of work every day. Both FitzGerald and Turansick have been working in the immigration field since graduating from Fordham Law, and both feel fortunate that they are in a position to help those in need. “The funds provided were to help the students—to give them the opportunity to make a difference in this little-known part of the country,” FitzGerald said. For many asylum-seekers, the volunteers are the first people they have encountered who are not trying to turn them back.
“The work has become quite important, because there are few areas of law right now that are more topical
than what we are doing,” FitzGerald said. He acknowledged that although the United States is divided on immigration policies, the country nevertheless has laws in place for asylum-seekers. FitzGerald’s motivations to help with the project run deeper than simply his legal skill (his firm has become quite good at filling out immigration paperwork) or the firm’s pro bono commitment (Fragomen attorneys are expected to perform a minimum of 50 hours of pro bono work per year). “It’s heartwarming to see these kids being helped through this process,” he said.
For many of the volunteers, to engage in this kind of work is to become emotionally involved. “You hear the stories of the women, the struggles they have experienced, the hardships they have endured, and the reasons why they are running away from the only place they have ever called home; you get emotionally connected,” said Turansick. He credits the support of Fragomen for allowing him to continue to live out the Jesuit values that Fordham instilled in him. Turansick, who also graduated from Fordham College, has twice been to Dilley during Fragomen Week. Though challenging, he said it’s also been the most rewarding week of the year. “We’re doing God’s work. We’re doing something special,” Turansick said.
There is no doubt in Turansick’s mind that volunteer involvement has positively impacted the lives of asylum-seekers. “Volunteering at Dilley saves lives. You can literally save lives,” he said.