CROSSING BORDERS: Camila Bernal, left, an attorney from Columbia, speaks with 2013 RWU Law School graduates Angela Lawless and Dennis Costigan about representing undocumented children and about the Pro Bono Collaborative.
Sleeping on the roof of a train packed with refugees, then getting imprisoned in warehouses and having to beg for food when they do get free, children seeking to cross the border into the U.S. are constantly at risk, says Providence attorney Hans Bremer.
But while traveling unaccompanied as a child or teen to the United States is dangerous, living here once they’ve arrived without documentation for permanent residency also has its challenges – something Bremer would like to help remedy through his own pro bono work and the free help to be provided by attorneys he trains.
Bremer, a Roger Williams University law school graduate who specializes in immigration law at Bremer Law & Associates, spent an afternoon training four graduates of his alma mater in late February on how to help juveniles in such a position to get special immigrant juvenile status.
“Every kid has a slightly different journey, but it’s harrowing for all of them,” Bremer said.
The legal standing provides lawful permanent residency to children who are under the jurisdiction of the Family Court when it’s not in the child’s best interest to be reunified with one or both parents due chiefly to abuse, neglect or abandonment. Over several months, the two-step process requires a finding in Family Court that reunification with a parent or guardian is not a viable option; then application for the status must be made to and approved by the Immigration Court, Bremer said.
Once the status is granted, the youth can get a green card which gives them all the rights of a documented immigrant. But once he or she turns 18, they are typically no longer eligible for the special immigrant juvenile status in Rhode Island, Bremer said.
In a discrete project, staff at the Pro Bono Collaborative arranged for the training Bremer offered four colleagues and fellow alumni as part of a pilot program in order to help this vulnerable population.