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Paul, Weiss Leads Multi-Firm Effort to Stop the Government’s Attack on Legal Services Organizations That Provide Pro Bono Assistance for Pro Se Immigrants

The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) is the only non-profit provider of pro bono immigration assistance in the state of Washington, and often assists pro se clients on a limited representation basis. Earlier this year, the federal government sent a cease-and-desist letter to NWIRP to stop the organization from providing legal assistance to pro se immigrants on this basis. Such a limitation on pro se assistance—which is an important tenet of pro bono efforts in areas of law where the demand for lawyers is higher than can be met—would have crippled legal services organizations’ ability to assist low-income immigrants.

Paul, Weiss filed a declaration in support of NWIRP’s motion for a preliminary injunction to help demonstrate the First Amendment challenges posed by the policy, including that the firm’s lawyers would have no clarity as to whether certain ongoing pro bono efforts would be deemed to violate the policy. A group of other firms filed similar affidavits. On July 27, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington issued a nationwide injunction, finding that the challenged policy violates the First Amendment, and writing that “t[h]e effect of the [challenged] Regulation as interpreted by the Government will be the inevitable chipping away at attorneys’ fundamental rights. Under the circumstances of this case, EOIR is blindly seeking to impose its rules and regulations and spin precedent in a manner inconsistent with fairness.

Pro bono counsel Emily Goldberg led the law firm effort to support NWIRP’s case with declarations. She also drafted the declaration of Audra Soloway, who offered the Paul, Weiss perspective as co-chair of the Public Matters Committee. Both Audra and Robert Atkins provided valuable assistance in the effort. The court specifically noted that “[a]s the myriad of attached declarations attest, NWIRP and other organizations may lose the ability to receive aid in furthering their cause” if the policy were allowed to stand.

August 1, 2017

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