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A project of Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, Inc.

General Line: (213) 251-3505

Fax: (213) 487-0986 

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©2019 by Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project

Designed and created by Luis D Gonzalez for Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project

Kipp Mueller
Pro Bono Attorney

Why did you choose to volunteer with the Catholic Charities of Los Angeles Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project?

I realized after hearing other people's stories that I could have a tremendous impact on an asylum seeker's life if I just put in a little time to learn the system. I had heard sad stories, but also stories of triumph, and figured I would give it a shot.

Obviously, my interest in getting involved was also fueled by the Trump administration's policies, including separating families and surrounding courthouses and grade schools with ICE officers. In my personal opinion, we have now spent years watching a blubbering demagogue rant and rave about particular populations, fueling and fanning hatred and intolerance for his own political gain. As a person of Jewish faith, let's just say that I have a particular sensitivity to that. We have to make sure that everyone, including our most vulnerable populations, remain protected by the rule of law and the tenet of due process.

What was your experience like working as a pro bono attorney at Esperanza?

From start to finish, I had mentors by my side. I'm not going to lie: you're thrown in the deep end and you have to teach yourself to swim. Some of the initial things you learn, you learn in trial by fire. You may embarrass yourself a bit. But embrace it, it's all part of the learning process! And the mentorship provided to me -- particularly Jesse's guidance -- was invaluable. Esperanza is thorough and professional, and great for an attorney looking for the perfect balance between running your own case and having support.

What was your experience like working with your client?

Well, my client is wonderful and now a lifelong friend. I won't hide the fact that the stress is intense. Regardless, you're fighting for someone who's fighting for their life, and for their children's lives. The anxiety is going to be contagious. And you're going to take on that stress as well as all of the unknowing -- from the procedural unfamiliarity to just not knowing whether your case will be successful. It's uneasy. You might lose some sleep.

All that being said, I'm signing up for more cases and I have no intention of stopping. Win or lose, you're going to be proud of yourself when the work is done, knowing that your client had an advocate by his or her side in an otherwise terrifying process. You are your client's everything. And your client and his or her family will forever appreciate your efforts.

Tell us a little bit about your client’s form of relief and claim. What was the result in the case?

My client was seeking asylum or, in the alternative, withholding of removal or relief under the convention against torture. She was granted asylum, and that the time I'm writing this, we're in the process of getting her reunited with her kids (who were inexplicably sent to New York). .

How did you feel after you received the result in your case? How did your client feel?

Well, it's been two days and I still feel intense euphoria. As if a thousand-pound weight was lifted off my shoulders. But it's more than that - to exhaust the analogy, and as corny as it sounds, it's like the weight was replaced with wings. I'm still in sort of a dream state.

What advice would you give to a lawyer considering taking a case from Esperanza?

DO IT. And lean on your resources so that you're the best advocate you can be.

What was the most challenging aspect of your pro bono case?

Well, in my case, my client's children were separated from her and sent to New York. Making sure that her asylum is derivative has been complicated. Also, my client was not physically harmed by the government. That means that you've gotta fight a bit harder for the past persecution and find the right case law demonstrating that your client suffered something beyond idle threats.

What did you learn from your experience taking a pro bono case?

That I want to be a lifelong advocate for asylum seekers in any and all capacities that I can.

Why is Esperanza’s mission important to you?

Not only because it's righteous, but because it's as American as apple pie. We've asked other countries to give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. Never has this creed resonated so much for me as it did the moment my client -- a refugee who nearly lost her children, her family, her everything -- stepped on American soil, with the opportunity to build her life anew and pursue the American dream. It was one of the most remarkable moments of my life. And particularly in this day and age, it was an indescribably powerful reminder of what actually makes America great.