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Mysterious Girl
Back to Intern and Volunteer Voices
Peter Giannini
Pro Bono Attorney

How long have you been practicing law?

I was admitted to the California and federal bars in 1974.

What area of law do you specialize in?

I worked as a Certified Law Student for the Greater Watts Justice Center. After graduation, I was fortunate to get a job as a Deputy Public Defender with the Los Angeles County Public Defender. I opened my private solo practice in the late 70s. I have never done anything but state and federal criminal defense. I retired from that practice after 40 years.

Why did you choose to volunteer with Esperanza?

Esperanza is organized. They have ready access to a never-ending supply of needy and deserving clients. The training here is excellent. They are well-staffed with dedicated attorneys who know what they are doing. They are immediately responsive when I have questions. They have a killer brief bank, because they are good a what they do. Whatever my issue is, whatever country, they have seen it, have dealt with it and have briefed it. They are knowledgeable about various strategic approaches and eagerly share their expertise. They just don’t drop the ball.

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

I have felt welcomed by the attorneys and staff. They go out of their way to make themselves available to me, even though they are all carrying full caseloads - as in 40-50 cases each. They could not be more accommodating.

What was your experience like working with your client?

As a criminal defense lawyer, I am familiar with the overwhelming danger of gang activity in Central America. That said, my heart cries out for my 17-year-old client whose family was systematically murdered over the years, and who made his way, alone, from Central America to the Texas border, where he actually swam across the Rio Grande. I so admire his courage and his gumption. He deserves better than he’s had, and I am committed to helping him achieve his goals.

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

After several interviews interspersed with consultations with my Esperanza advisers, we agreed on a tiered approach to relief. If he can qualify for asylum at the administrative hearing level, that is the fastest path to long term relief. If he is denied, we will seek asylum from the court. If that is unsuccessful, we will apply for SIJS relief, for which he certainly qualifies, but the time frame is longer by years. We are still in process, and I am confident that relief will be granted. The question is how long that will take.

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

Take full advantage of the support that Esperanza offers. If, like me, you have no experience with immigration and asylum issues, take all of the trainings that are offered. Learning is made simple. Ask for sample briefs. They have dealt with your issue, and will freely share their pleadings. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance, and align yourself with a staff attorney who will walk with you through the process. The success rate here is very high, and that is reassuring.

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

The clients need so much in addition to legal authorization to remain in the United States. My client desperately needs grief counseling and some serious PTSD-directed psychotherapy, but he doesn’t know this. To him, it’s just what happened to him and the way things are. He wants to better himself. He has an eighth grade education in his home country. He was attending high school here, and doing well, but he has turned 18 so he can no longer attend high school, He has no one to help him navigate the system and find the next school. He needs to work, but he isn’t eligible for a Work Authorization. In this political climate, employers are unwilling to take the risk of hiring him. In short, he needs what we all need, but there is a paucity of services available.

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

For me personally, I found that accepting a case means getting to know my client rather intimately. He’s not just a case. He is a scared 18-year-old in a foreign country. He is brave. He is determined. I love those things about him. I want him to have the best life possible.

Why is Esperanza’s mission important to you?

ICE raids in Hispanic communities, family-gutting deportations, crackdowns on sanctuary cities. This administration is not interested in getting rid of the ‘criminals’. They are grabbing dreamers and mothers. Without Esperanza and other protectors, immigrants don’t have a chance against the complex immigration system. Esperanza makes a difference, changing lives one person at a time. Hispanics, in particular, have always been an integral part of our California culture and are valuable economic contributors. They want the same things we do - a job, a family, a safe place to live. I have been fortunate in having learned some skills, and I want to use those skills to help people in their desperate times.

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