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BR “Stars” at American Immigration Lawyers Association Conference

26 Jun


The Benach Ragland crew just returned from the annual conference of the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Boston, Massachusetts.  The annual meeting is the largest gathering of immigration lawyers and provides an opportunity for lawyers to learn from each other and improve their services to their clients.  This year, Benach Ragland attorneys Dree Collopy and Andres Benach, served on the conference faculty.  On Friday, Dree spoke on a panel that encouraged lawyers to think about issues in removal proceedings that go beyond the availability of relief entitled “Challenges and Strategies Beyond Relief.”  On Saturday morning, Andres served as a “Star” on the “Litigating with the Stars” panel, which challenged lawyers in the audience to think through common (and uncommon) scenarios and share their strategy.  The “stars” then critiqued the answers.  It was, indeed, a pretty sharp group of lawyers, as the stars gave out lots of “9s” and “10s.”

AILA also asked Andres to serve a third year as a member of the amicus curiae committee, the committee that decides which cases AILA will support with amicus briefs and prepares briefs on behalf of the organization.  In 2013-14, the committee submitted sixty briefs.  Dree was chosen again to serve as the Chair of the AILA asylum committee.  Thomas Ragland will continue to serve on the Federal Court Section Steering Committee.

The highlight of the conference was Saturday evening, when AILA gave its 2014 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyer Award for Outstanding Contributions in the Field of Immigration and Nationality Law.  In presenting her with this award, AILA cited Dree’s full caseload at Benach Ragland, as well as her leadership of the Catholic University Law School Immigration Clinic and her stewardship of the AILA National Asylum Committee.  Lastly, AILA noted that DrDree2ee is writing the upcoming edition of AILA’s Asylum Primer, a practical how-to for anyone seeking to represent an asylum seeker.  AILA subsequently published Dree’s speech accepting her award on its Leadership Blog.  Dree cited the humanitarian crisis on the border, the lack of due process, and the failure of the political branches to address the serious policy issue of immigration:

We are now faced with a humanitarian crisis at our borders.  CBP and ICE officers are using excessive force, inhumane detention conditions, and “no process” removals. We are faced with immigration courts fighting against insufficient resources, overcrowded dockets and cabined legal discretion. And we are faced with a renewed assault on our asylum system by Congress and the agencies themselves.

Yet, no actions are taken by those in power to fix our system. Instead we have a Congress that points fingers and strikes a pose in Capitol Hill hearings and an Administration which, on the back of an immigration reform-focused campaign, has taken to putting Band-Aids on gashes rather than treating the underlying wounds.

Until we have leaders who are going to work together to solve real problems that affect real people, American businesses, and separated families, it is up to us. It is for these reasons that this award is only the beginning of my journey.

After the awards ceremony, BR and many FOBRs headed out for a night of dancing, before getting back to the work that we knew awaited us.


BR’s Dree Collopy and Liana Montecinos Shine at AILA Conference

25 Oct


Throughout the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s two-day conference designed to help paralegals provide more effective assistance to their supervising attorneys, faculty reviewed and discussed the paralegal’s role with regard to key legal and factual issues, as well as the preparation of application forms and supporting documentation.  As members of the conference faculty, Dree Collopy and Liana Montecinos presented on asylum and removal case preparation, covering the asylum process, removal proceedings before the U.S. Immigration Courts, Immigration Court filings and preparing cases for trial, and the important role of the paralegal throughout these immigration cases.  Paralegals from all over the country participated, either in person or by the conference’s webinar component.

Benach Ragland Paralegal (and Superstar) Liana Montecinos began her portion of the presentation by asking, “Who here thinks of themselves as an artist?”  Liana then went on to describe the “art” that she creates every day in preparing filings to be sent to Immigration Courts around the country, emphasizing the importance of being detail-oriented, while also keeping in mind that each part of a filing contributes to its effectiveness as a whole.  From the cover page, to the index of exhibits, to the supporting evidence, to the proof of service, everything must be in order and must be presented like a valuable piece of art.

Benach Ragland Partner Dree Collopy emphasized the importance of teamwork in tackling the preparation of filings and testimony to be considered by the Immigration Courts.  In cases before the U.S. Immigration Courts, it is not only an individual’s livelihood or career and it is not only an individual’s family unity that is at risk; often times, it is a family member’s well-being and survival, or even the individual’s life and freedom at risk.  Because of this, the stakes are incredibly high and the nature of the relief sought can be quite complicated.  In meeting the Respondent’s high burden of proof in cases before the Immigration Courts, it takes a team, and paralegals are an essential part of that team.

Perhaps the most important aspect of teamwork on Immigration Court cases, whether you are an attorney or a paralegal, is providing impeccable client service from the beginning of the case until the end.  Liana and Dree emphasized the importance of client service throughout their presentation, noting that clients in removal proceedings are going through one of the most stressful times in their lives, and often times, having to recall and discuss in detail some of the most traumatic times in their lives.  Communicating frequently with clients, helping them feel comfortable with the procedures, and educating them about removal and the relief they are seeking will enable them to participate more fully in their cases and to feel more confident and calm throughout the process.

BR attorneys and staff are committed to improving the quality of practice of representation of immigrants.  In addition to having an opportunity to share our experience, we had the chance to learn from great immigration lawyers and paralegals and made many new FOBRs.

Benach Ragland News

1 May

Raising the barIt has been a busy and exciting few weeks at Benach Ragland.  From immigration reform rallies to dramatic courtroom victories, BR has had a month to remember.

Starting off, courtroom victories are the reason we do what we do.  Three major courtroom victories this month have lifted everyone’s spirits.  First, Andres Benach presented seven hours of testimony and 747 pages of documentary evidence to the immigration court in Pennsylvania over two days in winning a 212(h) waiver for a permanent resident convicted of an aggravated felony.  Legally, this victory was only made possible as Circuit Courts around the country, including the one in Pennsylvania, have decided that the plain language of  INA 212(h) allows certain permanent residents convicted of aggravated felonies to seek the waiver.  This was an unheard of notion about five years ago when the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Texas decided the case of Martinez v. Mukasey that opened this door.  At the time, we told our client that his only hope was that the logic of Martinez would also be accepted in the Third Circuit, where he was facing removal proceedings.  In September, a decision called Hanif v. Attorney General did just that and we were able to put on the case.  Overcoming the aggravated felony, showing the Judge that the family would suffer extreme hardship without the husband/ father and demonstrating that our client deserved this second chance took every bit of energy and evidence we could muster.  When the Judge finally ruled, the entire family broke down in tears relieved that the threat of deportation had been eliminated. Second, Dree Collopy wrapped up a long and emotional saga when her client was granted adjustment of status without a whisper of opposition from DHS.  After years of fighting DHS on the case, Dree overwhelmed the government with evidence and reason, such that DHS agreed to her client’s adjustment.  Dree’s client, Sophie, is BR’s May 2013 Client of the Month and you can read more about her here.  Finally, Thomas Ragland was hired on Thursday, worked all weekend, and destroyed the government’s case on Tuesday.  A case that had lasted for several years where the government insisted that the client had committed fraud, when she had not, was wrapped up with a burst of activity from Thomas and Senior Paralegal Cyndy Ramirez, who with bulldog tenacity unraveled the truth of the case and set up the victory in court.  These cases represent the best of why we do what we do.  People’s lives are changed for the better and the emotional release of knowing that the immigration Sword of Damocles has been removed is a feeling every lawyer should get to know.  But, be careful, that feeling is highly addictive.

It is no wonder, with cases like these, that Andres Benach, Thomas Ragland and Dree Collopy were all recognized as Super Lawyers for 2013.  Every year, Thompson Reuters produces its Super Lawyers list and BR lawyers have been a regular fixture on the Super Lawyers list.  Joining Andres and Thomas this year, Dree Collopy was named a “Rising Star.”  We think that Dree is already a star and that it just takes some longer to recognize it.

At the same time, BR served the community.  BR’s goodwill ambassadors Sandra Arboleda, Mariela Sanchez and Liana Montecinos supported the April 10 immigration rally and BR was the only law firm to attend the Maryland Council for American-Islamic Relations awards dinner on Sunday, April 28.  BR even received a shout-out from Imam Johari from the Dar-el-Hijra mosque for our work on a naturalization case for one of their congregants.  Also, last night (April 30), Benach Ragland was honored as a Platinum Member of the DC Bar’s Raising the Bar effort to support access to justice programs.  Jen Cook, who has spearheaded this effort at BR, was on hand to receive the award, which was bestowed by Georgetown Law School Dean Peter Edelman who noted that Jen was once a student of his.

Lastly, BR attorneys have criss-crossed the country educating lawyers on the challenges of immigration law.  Thomas Ragland addressed the Upper Midwest Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.  Andres Benach went to Chicago to discuss the obligations of defense counsel in advising their foreign born clients on the immigration consequences of conviction with lawyers from the American Bar Association Section of Litigation and will speak tomorrow on Provisional Waivers and also Prosecutorial Discretion at the National Immigration Project’s annual conference in Boston.

Spring certainly has been busy and gratifying at Benach Ragland.  May looks no different with challenging cases looming.  Benach Ragland law clerk Prerna Lal will graduate from law school, marking another step towards joining BR as a lawyer after the Bar exam.  It is all exciting and we are loving every minute of it.

Dree Collopy Leads Immigration Training at ABA Annual Meeting

21 Aug

As Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) Section on Litigation’s Immigration Litigation Committee, Dree Collopy recently collaborated with immigration attorneys from across the country to develop and conduct an immigration training at the ABA 2012 Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois.  In partnership with the ABA Commission on Immigration, Dree’s committee provided a pro bono training program designed to encourage attorneys to serve immigrants in need of a zealous advocate and to equip those attorneys with the skills they need to provide high quality, effective representation for people in removal proceedings.

From August 2nd to the 7th, Chicago, Illinois was inundated with members of the American Bar Association, who congregated in “the Second City” for the ABA’s 2012 Annual Meeting.  Everywhere you looked there were lawyers.  Some were learning about architecture on tour boats on the Chicago River, while others marveled at the views from atop the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and shopped on Michigan Avenue and State Street “that great street.”  Still more ate deep-dish pizza and Italian beef, perhaps while tapping their feet to the blues rhythm at Buddy Guy’s Legends or cheering on the Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.  Amidst the city’s many attractions, however, thousands of America’s attorneys gathered to further the practice of law and the legal profession.  Countless engaged in Continuing Legal Education and leadership meetings focused on strategizing another year aimed at serving the public, defending liberty, and delivering justice for all.

One of the Annual Meeting’s critical goals was to develop ways in which ABA members could serve the public by providing pro bono services to underrepresented populations.  At the forefront of the dialogue was the plight of the most vulnerable groups in America.  Facing language barriers, increased detention, notario fraud, erosion of due process, and a lack of access to counsel, immigrants and refugees are in desperate need of skilled advocates in the fight for justice.  As Co-Chair of the ABA Section on Litigation’s Immigration Litigation Committee, Dree collaborated with committed attorneys from across the country to address this very need.  Together, they educated attorneys on Immigration Court procedures and assisted them in developing the skills needed to represent clients in Immigration Court.  Dree and the other contributors trained attorneys on how to seek various forms of relief from removal, and opined on ethical issues that arise when representing clients in removal proceedings.  Chicago Immigration Judge Giambastiani generously donated her time to provide tips from the bench, passionately affirming the need for effective representation in Immigration Court and urging attorneys to participate in defining a more just system by undertaking pro bono immigration cases.

As an attorney who avidly represents this vulnerable group daily, it was inspiring for Dree to witness corporate, tax, and tort attorneys focusing their attention on addressing the pronounced need for pro bono representation for immigrants.  The Immigration Litigation Committee’s programs ensured that those committed attorneys boarded their flights from Chicago equipped to zealously and effectively advocate their immigrant clients’ matters before the nation’s Immigration Courts.  Dree boarded her flight from O’Hare to Washington National encouraged by the commitment of our nation’s attorneys and her Committee’s ability to further the mission of increasing pro bono immigration representation nationwide.  Whether representing the single mother of two U.S. citizen children facing removal from the United States, the political activist fleeing imprisonment and torture, or the undocumented victim of years of abuse at the hands of a U.S. citizen, the dedicated attorneys who congregated in Chicago will be defending liberty and delivering justice to people in great need of skilled and trained advocates.