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IRAP’s Fourth Annual Pro Bono Appreciation Week Celebrates Impact of Volunteer Network

For IRAP’s fourth annual Pro Bono Appreciation week, we honored 40 pro bono attorneys, pro bono partners, law students, student fellows, and volunteers from our network for their vital contributions to amplifying the reach and impact of IRAP’s legal services, legal resources, and advocacy. Thank you to all of the honorees and our entire pro bono and volunteer network for all that you do to fight to ensure that everyone has a safe place to live and a safe way to get there.

A video thumbnail of Sharif Aly, IRAP President.

2024 Pro Bono Appreciation Week Honorees 

Honorees: Alessandra Scalise, Elvira Sihvola, Maylin Meisenheimer, Linda Martin, Michael Leonetti

This team has been working on behalf of an Afghan family whose lives were in danger due to the father’s work on behalf of the U.S. government. The team helped the family navigate evacuation in 2021 and then continued their assistance to help them apply for Green Cards once they arrived in the United States. In order to best represent their clients, team members even flew out to accompany them in person to their adjustment interviews. Thanks to their advocacy, the clients were able to successfully interview that day and were approved for Lawful Permanent Residence.

“Over the last few years, we have spent countless hours speaking with our clients and advocating for them as they navigate the many application forms, interviews and relocation to the United States, and it has been an enormous privilege to both help them and get to know them personally as they shared their stories with us.” Alessandra Scalise, Elvira Sihvola, Maylin Meisenheimer, Linda Martin, and Michael Leonetti

Honoree: Erika Fairfield

Erika and Fenwick have been representing an Iraqi refugee family living in Jordan who were denied resettlement to the U.S. for “discretionary reasons.” After eight years of tireless advocacy on behalf of the family, the family’s denial was recently overturned and conditionally approved for resettlement to the United States.

After the many years spent waiting for a decision in her case, it was the greatest feeling to be able to share the wonderful news that [our client’s] request for resettlement had been approved – that was a call I won’t soon forget! Serving clients like those we assist through our work with IRAP is a constant reminder of our interconnectedness as human beings – no matter where we are in the world. I think that helps make me not only a better lawyer, but a more thoughtful person, too. Erika Fairfield

Honorees: Catherine Mitri, Marwa Hirmendi

Catherine Mitri and Marwa Hirmendi from Seattle U provided invaluable case support to Staff Attorney Karla Davis on an SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) COM Case. Their meticulous assistance included aiding with a declaration and meticulously assembling the client’s supplemental submission. We commend their unwavering dedication to ensuring the client’s needs were met. Many thanks to the team for their outstanding efforts in advocating for their client’s rights and well-being.

“Volunteering with IRAP was one of the most rewarding experiences I had throughout law school. One of the great things about doing pro bono work is that you see the immediate impact your team’s work has in someone’s life. Refugees and displaced people are often waiting several months for any communication from immigration agencies regarding their cases, sometimes only to be met with an application denial, and IRAP’s work through this project eases the burden on individuals by providing legal guidance where appropriate. Our supervising attorney, Karla Davis, is a dedicated lawyer who is passionate about serving refugees and displaced people, and we were very lucky to work with such a brilliant mind!” Marwa Hirmendi

Honorees: Emily Devlin, Genesis Orea, Paulina Leyva Hernandez, Zoe Kline

This year, a dedicated team of CUNY students partnered with IRAP to improve the legal information we provide to asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border. Under the guidance of an IRAP attorney, these students crafted informative resources and conducted legal orientation sessions for recently arrived asylum seekers. Their goal was to empower these individuals with crucial knowledge about their current status and responsibilities amidst impending removal proceedings. IRAP expresses gratitude for the commitment and valuable contributions of these CUNY students.

“The Legal Orientation for Asylum Seekers project with IRAP allowed me to be connected to the needs of migrants at the border, even as a student in NYC. By addressing the need for basic information and guidance through pre-recorded informational videos, the project hopefully helped dispel some of the confusion of our complex immigration system that migrants have to navigate alongside other challenges as they forge a new life while seeking safety in a new country. It was an honor to participate in this project!” Paulina Leyva Hernandez

Honorees: Karen Sebaski, Paul Kemnitzer

Since 2016, Karen and Paul have provided excellent pro bono representation to an Iraqi refugee client seeking a refugee travel document to return to the United States with her children after what was intended to be a temporary trip back to Iraq. Karen and Paul have been so dedicated and diligent to assist their client and her children through multiple avenues of advocacy, including through an I-290B appeal to USCIS, a mandamus lawsuit, and humanitarian parole. They are responsive and provide updates and revisions quickly and efficiently. They are always willing to explore new strategies that may better assist their clients and are truly dedicated to supporting them through all possible means.

“A few things this case really drove home is the importance of thinking creatively and outside of the box for your clients, and never backing down when the going gets tough. Over the past seven years, we have had to come up with creative ways to put pressure on USCIS to process the necessary refugee travel documents for our clients to return to the United States after traveling back to Iraq on an emergency basis, which has required unwavering perseverance.” Karen Sebaski

Honorees: Neil Lieberman, Paul Kemnitzer, Nancy Perry

This team has been representing an Iraqi couple separated by unjust denials and egregious delays for many years. They have filed multiple petitions to try and reunite them. And when the petitions didn’t move, they filed mandamus litigation in partnership with IRAP lawyers. Throughout the entire process, they have always kept the interests of their clients foremost. They have really persevered on this case and we hope that will pay off in the family being reunited soon.

“Working with IRAP has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.  I came to IRAP in 2015 wanting to help refugee families, but knowing almost nothing about immigration law. IRAP provided a support system and subject matter experts that allowed me to do that.” Neil Lieberman

Honorees: Katherine Brisson, Shelli Gimelstein, Henry Ricardo, Alex Mahler-Haug

This Patterson team is currently litigating two mandamus cases in the Southern District of California on behalf of two Pakistani men living in California, who have been waiting five plus years to bring their families here. They recently briefed an opposition to a motion to dismiss and did a great job – they were thoughtful and smart in how they approached these issues and helped IRAP improve its template for future cases. We are hopeful that their excellent work will help secure another favorable decision holding USCIS accountable for their egregious delays in adjudicating FTJ cases.

“I was an IRAP volunteer during law school, and helped a client successfully pursue a Special Immigration Visa. Being able to help him and his family successfully arrive in the United States from Afghanistan was a central part of my law school experience, and I resolved to find ways to help other refugee clients once I graduated and started practicing as a lawyer. So I was thrilled to be able to re-engage with IRAP when I joined Patterson.” Alex Mahler-Haug 

Honoree: Paige Pavone 

Paige has been working on behalf of a refugee family impacted by the extensive delays in the family reunification process. Just two months after receiving the case, Paige filed a mandamus on behalf of the family in court. To do so, she rapidly completed three well-researched and well-written drafts of the complaint and found local counsel. Throughout her work she has been highly communicative with IRAP and a joy to work with.

“Volunteering with IRAP has been an incredibly meaningful and educational experience. I believe in IRAP’s mission and I am grateful that they have welcomed pro bono attorneys like me into their community to serve refugees.” Paige Pavone

Honoree: Gabrielle Field 

Gabrielle is representing a family of six Afghan refugees in their humanitarian parole applications. Despite the extensive backlog and low approval rates for these types of cases, Gabrielle has been able to make incredible progress in the case. Working around the clock, she was able to respond to two requests for additional evidence very quickly, eventually leading to a conditional approval of the case. Throughout her relationship with IRAP, she has been exceptionally communicative, inquisitive, and very easy to work with. We hope that many of our clients get to work with Gabrielle!

“Supporting my clients to receive humanitarian parole and safely come to the United States ranks among the most rewarding and meaningful work I have done as an attorney.” Gabrielle Field

Honoree: Shaymaa Qurashi (University of Jordan)

Shaymaa has worked as a student volunteer in IRAP’s Jordan office. In her work, she has shown excellent attention to detail and demonstrated a passion for the humanitarian field. She has always been available when the office needs her, and she has worked hard to complete every task she has been assigned perfectly.

“Volunteering with IRAP has been transformative, highlighting the crucial role of legal support and deepening my understanding of the challenges faced by refugees. It has instilled in me a profound sense of social responsibility as a student, motivating me to actively contribute to enhancing the lives of refugees and driving positive change.” Shaymaa Qurashi

Honoree: Izzy Laskero, Elizabeth Garrison, Greta Kaufman, Amanda Lin, Truman Stephens, Jess Goldman, Bianca Butler, Stella Zhao, Toni-Ann Hill

Fordham University’s IRAP Chapter has been actively involved in a Naturalization Clinic and a SIV Screening Clinic, offering essential assistance to Afghan refugees fleeing persecution by the Taliban. They’ve also organized policy updates on refugees affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, hosted Immigration Judge Mimi Tsankov, and held a panel on careers in Public International Law. In addition to their IRAP-assigned initiatives, IRAP admires how the Fordham chapter consistently integrates IRAP’s global efforts into the local context through campus events and various initiatives. Thank you to IRAP Fordham for your dedication to IRAP’s mission and work.

“Coming into law school, I was suspicious of a lawyer’s ability to truly effect change on a wide scale. Through working with IRAP, I’ve seen firsthand how important lawyers are to the immigration process. Hard work, critical thinking, and a focus on human well-being has the power to transform how our society treats refugees and displaced persons. Whether my career path goes through immigration law or not, the belief that lawyers can make a difference will be a strong foundation in each step.” Truman Stephens

Honoree: Mary Burner, Deputy Pro Bono Counsel

Covington & Burling is a longtime IRAP partner and over the years, they have helped a number of clients in direct services proceedings and assisted IRAP with FOIA litigation. Over the last year, Covington has increased its involvement by working on a number of mandamus litigation matters seeking to reunite refugee families separated by egregious and unlawful processing delays. Covington’s litigation teams have been client-centered, responsive, and produced excellent work quality. We are immensely grateful to be in partnership with them.

“Working with IRAP allows us to use our legal skills to help our clients—some of the bravest and most resilient individuals imaginable—as they navigate an uncertain and complex journey. It is a privilege to be part of this life-changing work to help our clients achieve lasting safety and stability, reunification with their families, and the promise of a new beginning.” Mary Burner

Honorees: Marc Gossman, Nikita Gontschar

IRAP was introduced to Marc Gossman, and GxG Legal, through our Board Vice Chair, Carl Reisner. Since then, they have helped formally establish IRAP Europe and continued to provide pro bono assistance in a way that’s unusual in the international space. They are a true strategic partner.

“[GxG Legal] and Nikita Gontschar were instrumental in the formal establishment of IRAP Europe…and since its inception, we have consistently provided support and assistance. This collaboration has fostered a strong sense of ownership of IRAP’s activities and mission, and we are grateful to be part of Team IRAP going forward.” Marc Gossman

Honorees: Faith Trejo (SMU Law), Jasmine Aguilar (Oregon Law), Francis Doan (LSU Law) Massara Almafrachi (Western New England Law), Toni-Ann Gayle (UConn Law)

Beginning in fall 2023, IRAP launched a Law Student Fellowship for five current law students with lived experience of displacement or marginalization to engage more deeply with our work as year-long fellows. Our five fellows – Faith, Jasmine, Francis, Massara, and Toni – were chosen from a competitive national pool of over one hundred applicants. Over the course of the academic year, they have attended weekly trainings and completed legal assignments to increase their substantive knowledge, familiarity with IRAP’s work, and lawyering and professional skills. The fellows have had the chance to visit IRAP’s New York office, meet with mentors, and explore careers in this field.

“It’s easy to become disheartened and lose hope in the system, but throughout this experience with IRAP, I am always reminded to persist in this journey of advocating for immigrant rights, even if the impact I make seems microscopic. This realization has instilled in me a sense of purpose and renewed my dedication to upholding the rights of migrants.” Massara Almafrachi