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Mysterious Girl
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Stephanie Ivler
Pro Bono Attorney

How long have you been practicing law?

I practiced business law and litigation both in California and the State of Israel for about 14 years before entering senior non profit leadership and management some 20 years ago.

Why did you choose to volunteer with Esperanza?

I chose to volunteer with Esperanza for several reasons. I have a deep-seated concern over the impact of the current Administration's stated positions on immigration that has crystallized into outrage over its Executive Orders and policy revisions. I am an American proud to welcome "...your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." I am Jewish. My grandparents were welcomed into the United States through Ellis Island. Yet twelve identified family members were murdered by the Nazis at Belzec extermination camp in 1942, who might have been saved had the world opened its borders. Third, I am an attorney who believes we must never tire in pursuing justice and equity as anchored in honoring the dignity of human life.

Yet these three reasons speak to abstract motivation. "On the ground", it has been a privilege to operate within, and apply my legal training to lead change within California's foster care system. Participating in the collaborative ADL-Esperanza asylum training, I realized that our asylum kids and our foster kids have experienced similar trauma and share the need for safe havens. Having witnessed the shock on young faces newly separated from family - and the ear-to-ear grins following reunification or with loving adoption - I felt compelled to volunteer.

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

Esperanza staff have been wonderfully supportive, whether I have needed guidance on procedure and substantive law, or simply help with an administrative task. Also, staff at their offices have been equally helpful when I have needed to meet my clients there.

What was your experience like working with your client?

It is deeply satisfying and humbling. The clients have life experience far beyond what they should have lived at their young ages, or at any age. There is much at stake in seeking to protect them - triggering additional trauma when interviewing them, preparing them and attending the interviews with the asylum officers, and simply losing sleep for personal concern that the applications will not succeed!

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

My sibling clients are two young sisters seeking asylum based on domestic abuse and gang-related violence in Honduras. We are scheduled for hearings in Immigration Court this month and await dates for the asylum interviews.

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

I approach this work as more than legal work. Sensitive to parallel issues I have addressed in foster care, I view this as an opportunity to instill a sense of empowerment in my young clients. This means that from the very first moment we meet, I deliver and continue reinforcing the message that they are valued as individuals and that we are a team - that I am their attorney but cannot succeed without them. I explain to them that they have the power to make a choice - to be victimized by what they are going through, or to join our team in fighting to protect them. I am also candid and direct about not being able to guarantee success in explaining the full process to them.

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

The interview process. These are children who have experienced multiple layers of trauma. They are re-traumatized every time they are asked to retell their stories. They forget, they contradict themselves, they repress memories and get confused with information. I have learned that it is good to let them wander and vent and then gently redirect them. It is also beneficial to draft the supporting declarations and review them in second and even third interviews to be sure they are accurate. There is two-fold benefit - accuracy but also preparation for the asylum interview.

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

That the Esperanza staff are rock stars both in what they do as attorneys and how they support their volunteers. That there is overwhelming need for this type of representation and we will never completely fulfill it. That this work melds the mind and skills of lawyering with the heart in protecting children and youth who have no control over life circumstances that none us would wish upon ourselves or our loved ones.

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