Attorney Ashley LaRiccia will soon complete a two year fellowship with Lutheran Services of Georgia. As she prepares for the next step in her career, Ashley offers a look back on the last two years and her work representing unaccompanied alien children (UAC) in the Atlanta Immigration Court.
By Ashley LaRiccia
Over the past two years, I have been working at Lutheran Services of Georgia as an immigration attorney through the Equal Justice Works Fellowship Program with sponsorship of McGuireWoods LLP and DuPoint. The mission of Equal Justice Works is to create a just society by mobilizing the next generation of lawyers committed to equal justice. Applicants to the fellowship program develop a project with a host site and then submit the proposal to Equal Justice Works. Potential sponsors are then given an opportunity to review the project proposals and select a project and fellow to fund. The goal of my fellowship project has been to expand legal representation to unaccompanied alien children (UAC) in removal proceedings at the Atlanta Immigration Court.
A UAC is a minor who has entered the United States without his or her parents. These minors are placed in removal proceedings and often go unrepresented due to the prohibitive costs of private attorney. A number of national and local non-profits have been working together to increase the number of pro bono and low-cost attorneys available to represent these children in proceedings. About 50% of children appear in immigration court without an attorney, and of these children nine out of ten will be removed or deported to their country of origin.
Over the past two years I have provided direct representation to a number of minors in removal proceedings. I recently won asylum for a hearing impaired UAC who before coming to the United States had never been to school and had no knowledge of sign language. Through my interactions with these minors I have become intimately acquainted with the daily fear and anxiety that comes with living as an undocumented youth in the United States. These minors have come to US to escape violence, abuse, neglect and to reunite with family members they have not seen in many years. The majority of UAC in immigration proceedings are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. A quick google search of the conditions in these countries will reveal they suffer from the highest murder rates in the world.
Beyond my work with UAC I have also been able to represent other ILS clients including our refugee clients who return to Lutheran Services for immigration legal assistance with application including green card and citizenship applications. One of my favorite experiences of the past two years has been teaching a monthly class on Immigration Law to newly arrived refugees through the Extended Cultural Orientation program. While the subject matter of the class is serious, we inevitably end up smiling and laughing together through humor and jokes that transcend cultural and language barriers.
As I finish up my fellowship I would like to thank everyone who has made these two years so fulfilling: clients, colleagues, and the volunteers who have supported my work both at LSG and throughout the Atlanta community. I will return to the Washington DC area this fall to continue my career in public interest law.
LSG wishes Ashley the best of luck in DC. She will be missed!