Next week is Pro Bono Appreciation Week and we are excited to share with you the winners of our 2023 Pro Bono Appreciation Awards!
On Thursday, October 19, 2023, we celebrated and honored our generous, dedicated, and talented pro bono attorneys and volunteers at our annual Pro Bono Appreciation Event! Pro Bono attorneys and volunteers increase our capacity to provide free legal assistance to adults and children in deportation proceedings. They are key to helping us fight injustice. Thank you to our incredible volunteers and organizations that make a world of difference for our clients!
CHILDREN’S PROGRAM PRO BONO ATTORNEY OF THE YEAR- Marki Stewart, Esq.
To kick off Pro-Bono Appreciation Week, we are excited to announce our Children’s Program Pro Bono Attorney of the Year, Marki Stewart!
Marki is a healthcare lawyer who represents physicians, hospitals, and ambulatory surgery centers with a variety of healthcare regulatory issues, including reproductive rights and abortion care. She was one of the first attorneys to work with the National Women’s Law Center’s Time’s Up Fund to represent women who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. She has a special interest in examining racial disparities in maternal mortality and gives presentations regarding how healthcare lawyers and providers can help address the rising maternal mortality rate in the U.S.
For over a decade she has volunteered as a pro bono attorney with the Florence Project and has been recognized for the second year in a row as one of the Top 50 Pro Bono Attorneys by Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education.
Marki always goes above and beyond to serve her clients like Sonia. Amidst the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Marki initiated the process of filing a guardianship for Sonia, persisting through challenges and delays such as difficulty obtaining consent from Sonia’s father. During a period when Sonia lacked a guardian, Marki took extraordinary measures to enroll her in school, securing essential services and special assistance for Sonia. Marki’s dedication allowed her to obtain a guardianship that would finally allow her to apply for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) for Sonia. At the same time, she was able to stop Sonia’s deportation order. Marki consistently went beyond her role, helping the guardian access medical assistance, advocating for Sonia’s educational needs, and even arranging an appointment for Sonia to get glasses she needed. Thanks to Marki’s unwavering commitment, Sonia now holds an approved SIJS visa and eagerly awaits her permanent residency status!
It is a great pleasure and true honor to present Marki Stewart with the Florence Project’s 2023 Children’s Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award. Thank you and congratulations!
ADULT PROGRAM PRO BONO ATTORNEY OF THE YEAR- Bradley Pew, Esq.
At the Florence Project, we work with lawful permanent residents who face deportation after criminal convictions. In some cases, we get to ask the Judge for a second chance for our clients so they can stay with family, rather than deportation. Often, theseclients have never known any other country as home, having lived in the U.S. since childhood. Our pro bono attorneys work to bring those standing before an immigration judge to life, revealing the richness of their whole person to the court.
That is what Bradley Pew did when he accepted Michelle’s* case. Michelle had lived in the U.S. for decades, arriving as a lawful permanent resident as a toddler. Bradley accepted Michelle’s case without hesitation and addressed the multiple issues at play. He thoughtfully add
ressed intricate legal questions related to citizenship, removability, eligibility for relief, humanitarian protection, and more. Delving into her case involved medical and psychological evaluations, witnesses, and exposing the fault lines of sensitive family relationships. But most of all, it required open conversations with Michelle, who had never confronted the traumas at the root of her criminal history.
By the time that Bradley conducted his last testimony prep with Michelle, she was able to speak so compellingly to her desire to rehabilitate her life that it was impossible not to wholeheartedly root for her success. By the end of the hearing, the Judge was similarly compelled.
We know that Bradley’s representation was pivotal to Michelle’s success. He brought the human empathy, patience, and legal skill that were essential for a successful outcome, and we are so grateful. Michelle without a doubt deserved this second chance on her own, but it was Bradley who was able to bring that truth into focus.
Congratulations, Bradley! We are grateful for your partnership and thrilled to honor your contributions!
CHILDREN’S PROGRAM SPECIAL PARTNERSHIP- Kino Border Initiative
Since 2017, we have worked in partnership with KBI, creating the Border Action Team, where Florence Project staff provide legal services to migrants in KBI’s migrant aid center in Nogales, Sonora.
KBI is a binational, humanitarian organization in Nogales, Sonora and Arizona. Their mission is to promote humane, just, and workable migration through humanitarian assistance and holistic accompaniment of migrants, education and solidarity with migrants, and policy advocacy. KBI provides hundreds of daily meals, clothing, and temporary shelter for migrants in Nogales, Sonora. KBI social workers, psychologists, doctors, advocates, and volunteers provide holistic accompaniment for migrants in Mexico and support their integration into U.S. com
munities. Their Advocacy and Education team creates political will to support just migration in the U.S., dismantling many of the harmful or incomplete narratives that are often portrayed on a national scale.
In 2021 and 2022, we faced one of our most critical challenges together to date: supporting thousands of asylum seekers seeking an exemption from the #Title42 border policy that blocked access to asylum for over three years. While our Border Action Team provided legal orientations, individual consultations, and wrote the requests for exemptions, KBI provided holistic accompaniment to the asylum seekers waiting for months for their chance to request asylum. KBI staff and volunteers helped asylum seekers secure housing and jobs, access lifesaving medical care and vaccinations, enroll children in school, receive psychosocial and emotional support, and collectively organize against harmful policies.
Together, we built an internal referral system across teams, with staff identifying when people required services from one another. We worked alongside each other every day to attempt to best meet the needs of a population that was displaced in Nogales, Mexico for months or years at a time.
Over the course of two years, the Florence Project and the KBI helped secure access to asylum for almost 4,000 people who otherwise would not have been able to access safety. They were able to enter the U.S. more informed of the border policies at the time, their options while waiting, and the complexities of the process they would encounter once in the U.S.
We are proud to honor our special partnership with the Kino Border Initiative this year and for many years to come. Thank you!
VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR- Veronika Karimova
Veronika has been volunteering with the Florence Project since 2019. An immigrant herself, she is a first-generation Ukrainian living in
Portugal – much against her will during her pre-teen years. As an adult, she came to realize all the opportunities and prosperity her immigration story had brought her and her family and found herself deeply grateful for her parents’ sacrifice.
Witnessing the injustices many immigrants go through every day, Veronika learned about the Florence Project in 2019 after working in a localization assignment, which consisted of adapting a translated text to the linguistic nuance of the specific geographical area of a target audience. It requires a deep knowledge of the culture, linguistic expressions, and even the way of life of the source and target audiences. After this, she decided to help those traversing thousands of miles looking for safety and freedom by putting her incredible linguistic skills to work. She has translated hundreds of pages of evidence for Russian and Ukrainian clients. Her disposition, professionalism and attention to detail have been key to reuniting families and restoring our clients’ faith in humanity. Veronika’s selfless help has been an instrument to bring justice to many who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice.
We are deeply moved by her dedication and passion, her sense of humor, and the lovely words she always has for our organization and our mission. It is an honor to recognize your work, Veronika. Thank you and congratulations!