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Pro-bono attorneys in Arizona aid asylum-seeking immigrant families

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PHOENIX — Attorneys are stepping in to help the immigrant families seeking asylum who were released by immigration officials to churches in Phoenix this week.

“We’re trying to mobilize to see to what extent we can provide as much help as we can,” said Marcos Tapia, communications director for Arizona’s Hispanic Bar Association, also known as Los Abogados.

The association is looking for attorneys who can work on a pro-bono basis to help the immigrant families navigate through their immigration proceedings. Tapia said many of these families are from Central America and are seeking asylum in the United States.

He said his group had already been recruiting attorneys who could help the immigrant families recently separated at the border. Now, with this new wave of immigrants being dropped at Phoenix churches, he said they expect to “see a lot more people needing that type of help.”

On Monday, close to 100 adults and children were dropped off by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix. A second group was dropped off at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Phoenix on Tuesday.

ICE spokesperson Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe said in a statement that the agency began to release these immigrant families due to resource limitations. Some of these families were also in danger of being held past the time allotted based on judicial decisions interpreting the Flores Settlement Agreement.

Ashley Villaverde Halvorson, president of Arizona’s Hispanic Bar Association, said her group already has nine attorneys helping asylum seekers with their cases. She said they need more attorneys to help given that they expect the demand for attorneys to increase.

She added immigrants who get legal counsel have a higher probability of being granted the relief they’re seeking, including asylum.

“It can mean the difference between everything in their lives,” Halvorson said. “That’s why we are really calling to action any attorney who can spare the time to take on one of these cases. It’s going to make a huge difference.”

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