University of Washington School of Law

UW Law School pro bono program

Photo courtesy Greg Olsen / UW School of Law

A 2018 Miller Foundation grant to the law school helped send Professor Lisa Kelly and three students to Texas to provide pro bono legal services to women and children applying for asylum in the U.S. The group’s mission was to prepare clients for their “credible fear” interviews and ultimately end the practice of family separation.

A positive interview meant an applicant would stay in the U.S. and have their case taken up in court; otherwise, they would likely be deported. In order to pass, an applicant’s reasons for leaving their home countries needed to meet certain criteria. The group spent much of their time coaxing horrific stories – rape, murder, torture, kidnapping – from applicants and threading the information into stifling parameters.

In addition to prepping clients for interviews, the group aggregated legal services for migrants being released, connected to pro bono attorneys to take the asylum cases, put together advocacy declarations, and prepared individuals who had notices to appear in court. In summarizing the trip, Professor Kelly said, “This experience gave the students an opportunity to know the difference lawyers can make in the lives of real people at critical moments when social justice calls for a response and civil liberties are threatened.”