About the Pro Bono Litigation Project

The Pro Bono Litigation Project represents cases of national impact in federal and appellate courts.

ILCM’s Pro Bono Litigation Project began in October of 2008 and has received generous financial support from the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Minneapolis law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P. After two successful years, ILCM's goal is to continue expanding the project and our team of volunteer immigration litigators.

The need for an pro bono appellate litigation project arose due to fundamental changes in our immigration system over the past decade that have transformed the way immigration cases are decided. In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, one of the harshest pieces of immigration legislation in our nation’s history. The law dramatically expanded federal power to deport immigrants while simultaneously denying most immigrants any chance to seek relief from deportation on humanitarian grounds, as prior law had often allowed.

The new law also made it much more difficult for immigrants fleeing persecution to apply for asylum in the United States, and it gave the government broad powers to detain immigrants, including asylum seekers, while they pursued their rights to remain in America. Then, in 2002, the government announced new federal regulations that would “streamline” the long-standing process by which immigrants could appeal a deportation order. Historically, immigrants ordered deported or denied asylum by an immigration judge had the right to a meaningful appeal that would be decided by a three-member panel of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). But under the new “streamlined” system, the membership of the BIA was reduced. A single BIA member now decides the vast majority of appeals, and in many cases the BIA summarily affirms deportation orders without any explanation of its decision. Because of these changes, the only way many immigrants can now obtain meaningful review of their cases is by going higher, to the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals.

This graph shows how the 2002 reforms of the BIA caused a dramatic increase of appeals into the Eighth Circuit:

Demonstration of increased appeals to 8th Circuit Court

Litigating an immigration case in the U.S. Courts of Appeals is far more expensive than an administrative appeal to the BIA, and it involves far more complicated rules of procedure and jurisdiction. Cost and complexity are barriers that many immigrants with meritorious cases simply cannot surmount, particularly those who are poor, who are seeking asylum, or who are being detained by immigration authorities. Because the Eighth Circuit now publishes scores of immigration-related opinions each year that govern both the BIA and all immigration judges in Minnesota, it is absolutely necessary that ILCM be actively involved in litigation in federal court to pursue positive decisions that will have a broad, positive impact on our client community.

ILCM can only provide this critical service with the outstanding support of our pro bono volunteer attorneys, who have contributed hundreds of hours of service to our clients in our first two years. We thank them and our financial supporters for making this project a successful reality.


We greatly appreciate your financial support!

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