Award Recipients


Below are the comments of Executive Director John Keller on Gala night, April 15, 2010.

State Advocate of the Year: Avera Transplant Institute of Sioux Falls, SD

This is a very special award. Three weeks ago, the near impossible happened thanks to the amazing commitment of a few individuals. One of my clients, a father who did not have health insurance, and who has had many struggles in life, was able to successfully donate his kidney to his young son, also uninsured, who suffered from kidney failure for more than three years. I came to represent them through the tragic events that are now infamously connected to the city of Worthington. That first phone call was on December 12, 2006. Almost 3 ½ years later, after hundreds and hundreds of hours by dozens of persons in two states - the transplant happened and both are doing remarkably well.

There are many to thank, some in this room, from judges to the chief counsel's office, from elected officials, to religious communities, pro bono attorneys, two surgeons and their staffs, labor unions, and to a fellow kidney failure patient who helped raise money for them! But none of the work or efforts would have been enough without the Avera staff: my clients' social worker, Ms. Connie Pribyl and their primary doctor, Dr. Tina Melanson. The two of them never tired of nor allowed doubt to overcome the magic that they knew could save a life and create a bright future for a humble family.

It was because of Connie and Tina's commitment to the common humanity that we all share that today a 19 year old boy's life, literally has been saved. Even though their effort was for only two people, its ripples reach and inspire many more. Their commitment exemplifies what we are all called to do; never give up and make positive change - as much as you possibly can- with the tools you have. It is with great pleasure that ILCM awards Avera Transplant Institute the ILCM 2010 Advocate of the Year award.

Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year: Jennifer Kowski-Dahlberg

Jenny began volunteering at ILCM as a law student and impressed all of us with her commitment. She graduated, passed the bar, and simply kept volunteering for us! How fortunate can we get?! Jenny, now has her own ILCM caseload providing pro bono representation for clients we could not accept without her - while at the same time working for her own clients through Paula Duthoy's office. Over the last year she has represented an amazing 20 clients pro bono.

Jenny, obviously is a competent lawyer. She is also unfailingly kind to all of her clients and works very hard on their behalf. She recently won a case for a battered immigrant woman who was very nervous about going forward; she called Jenny constantly. Jenny was always very understanding and patient with her as she is with all of her clients. Her hours of work and patience paid off by helping her client begin a new life: she trusted Jenny's counsel, filed her case with immigration, overcame her fears, stayed out of reach of further violence, and achieved for the first time permanent legal status in the U.S.

As you might imagine, Jenny is someone all of us love to have around. She has become a sort of one-woman relief valve for compelling cases, a couple of them my own. Here are a few of those she's taken on:

  • a complex asylum and adjustment (that she just won just yesterday!!)
  • a Somali woman with a very sick little two year old boy facing years of complex surgeries who would likely die if not kept in the U.S. for surgeries,
  • a father trying to bring over his six children from Ethiopia, a nd
  • a recently naturalized U.S. citizen soldier, stationed in Afghanistan who asked us to help him marry his long-time fiancée and bring her to Minnesota in the fall when he finishes his tour of duty.

Jenny's work is all done pro bono - neither ILCM nor our clients can pay her. It is my deep honor to award her the 2010 Immigrant Law Center of MN Individual Attorney Pro Bono Award of the Year.

Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year: Latham & Watkins

Unfortunately L & W's attorneys Travis Mallen and Lori Alvino McGill could not join us tonight - their offices are in DC. They dedicated over 300 hours on behalf of our SEG asylum clients in their pursuit to change asylum law to help protect kids fleeing dangerous gang violence.

These two attorneys, with their timely representation and hundreds of hours of legal work, also possibly saved lives. Their appellate expertise allowed us to prevent the near certain deportation of three of our clients' back to the country of El Salvador where their lives had been threatened. They quickly helped us reach the U.S. Supreme Court in an emergency request to stop the imminent deportation of our clients - who had been unexpectedly arrested and detained by ICE despite having a valid asylum case pending at the 8th Circtuit.

Their quick, expert work allowed us to petition the Supreme Court two times in three days with deportation hanging over their heads. It is an understatement that we could never have done what we did without them.

When the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the government must answer our request for protection - it lead to the Solicitor General of the United States, Ms. Elena Kagan's intervention and the government's call to see if we couldn't work something out! Amazingly, our clients were quickly released from ICE custody, the case was sent back down and terminated at the deportation court and our clients are here tonight with their mother and ILCM's amazing 8th Circuit Litigation project coordinator Ben Casper. Their case has initiated a nation-wide effort at both the legislative and judicial levels to rethink asylum for these cases. Please welcome me in recognizing the amazing work of Latham and Watkins as the 2010 ILCM Law Firm Pro Bono Award. Here to accept the award are Ben Casper, the SEG plaintiffs, and their mother.

Inspiration Award: Anwar Ibrahim

Anwar Ibrahim was born and raised in the small African country of Djbouti. In March 2003, he moved to the United States as a refugee to join his brother in Minnesota. After living in the U.S. for five years, Anwar applied for citizenship because he wanted to travel the world under the protection of a U.S. passport - Anwar's brother is a professional soccer player with Major League Soccer. Anwar had to turn down an invitation to watch his brother represent the U.S. in South Korea because he was leery of international travel without being a citizen.

Anwar, like thousands of others, filed his naturalization application. He passed his interview in November 2008, and waited for USCIS to approve his application. He waited and waited…for over one year even though federal laws require a decision in 120 days. In June 2009, he looked for help and approached ILCM because he knew the delay in his case was unusual. Through ILCM's pro bono project, he was matched with the private attorney, Joshua Williams, who filed a federal lawsuit against USCIS on November 17, 2009. As a result of the lawsuit, Anwar's application was finally approved, and he became a U.S. citizen in January 2010.

Anwar believed in his right to be a U.S. citizen and stood up for himself. He never gave up or lost hope, and thanks to his diligence in pursuing his dream of U.S. citizenship and the hard work of his pro bono attorney, he can look forward to watching his brother play for the U.S. soccer team throughout the world as a U.S.C. Please welcome Mr. Anwar Ibrahim, and his pro bono attorney Joshua Williams, as we recognize Mr. Ibrahim with the 2010 ILCM Inspiration Award.

Volunteer of the Year: Graham Ojala-Barbour

Graham's service to ILCM is an example of dedication, personal initiative, and of service across barriers. Graham came to ILCM as a human rights fellow in the summer of 2009, and took on a significant role in our Crime Victim Assistant Project. Graham met with potential U-Visa clients, interviewed victims of domestic abuse and other crimes about their experiences and prepared case-memos for our Pro Bono Project. Graham did an exceptional job of using his natural empathy and Spanish language fluency to reach out to female crime victims and assuring them he was on their side despite sometimes yeas of serious abuse by their husbands or boyfriends.

Graham's dedication also sets him apart. After finishing his formal, paid fellowship, Graham too stayed on for an additional 140 plus hours of volunteer service in a little over one semester. This represents almost a $3,000 in-kind donation to ILCM and our clients. He still wasn't done yet. When Graham noticed our wait-list for Crime Victim cases growing he recruited seven more fellow U of M law students to take U-visa cases! Graham helped train and organize this group of fellow law student so that we could cut our waitlist significantly for crime victims. Finally, Graham has also recently agreed to take his first complex asylum case for ILCM. Please help me in recognizing Graham's initiative and commitment which clearly earned him ILCM's 2010 Volunteer of the Year award.

National Advocate of the Year: SEIU Local 26

Our final award is to the Service Employees International Union Local 26. Under the leadership of Javier Morillo and his amazing team, this organization has been at the forefront of representing immigrants both in the workplace and in the quest for dignity and fairness in multiple arenas. They have achieved many accomplishments to improve members' wages, health insurance, the use of green cleaning chemicals, and protecting workers.

But it is their quest to again effect system change, immigration reform, that we recognize them tonight. The clearest example to me came about through the nearly year long struggle that SEIU and ILCM have worked in; a struggle that ended with the termination of more than one thousand hard working janitors, many of whom cleaned the buildings where a lot of all of us work. SEIU's commitment to those workers, especially after losing their jobs, is the clearest example to me that this fight is personal and SEIU is in it to win and reform today's broken immigration system.

As the ABM firings took shape, just like in Worthington, once again it was the hard-workers who paid the price in October. They each wondered what they were going to do. Workers with 10 or more years of experience, mortgages, years of tax filing, in positions of supervision, U.S.-born children, good employer-supported health insurance…all thrown out on the street. All they had built-- dismissed and invalidated in the worst recession since the great depression. I am certain, that because of SEIUs leadership, each of those workers and their families had 5 extra months of employment and planning to face a very difficult future. That is no small thing.

While ILCM and AILA attorneys have been able to help some of the fired janitors, the numbers are very small, I am sorry to say. For those without a remedy SEIU did not forget them. Instead they do what they do best - they organized and rallied: with long-time immigration reform champion Rep. Luis Gutierrez when he was in Minneapolis this summer; to build a community cooperative for displaced workers; and just three weeks ago, in DC along with 200,000 other voices calling for change in 2010.

SEIU's fight to protect all workers exemplifies why they are at the forefront of advocating for immigrants and immigration reform fairness. Because of their tenacity, strategizing and the fact that this is "personal" that I have great confidence that SEIU will help lead all of us to CIR very soon. Please help me recognize SEIU local 26 as ILCM's 2010 National Advocate of the Year!

It gives me great pleasure to recognize SEIU26 with ILCM'S 2010 National Immigrant Advocate award of the year!

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