Honoring and Celebrating our Pro Bono Attorneys and Volunteers!

This week is Pro Bono Appreciation Week and we are excited to share with you the winners of our 2022 Pro Bono Appreciation Awards!

On Thursday, October 27, 2022, 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. We want to thank the dedicated lawyers who donate their time to our clients.

CHILDREN’S PROGRAM PRO BONO ATTORNEY OF THE YEAR- Patrick Lacroix

Pat represents clients in juvenile court and immigration cases. For the past 15 years, he has worked as a private practice attorney, an Assistant Attorney General, a Guardian Ad Litem for children, and as in-house counsel for a non-profit adoption agency.

The agonizing separation of children from their parents spurred Pat to start to learn Spanish, waking up every morning at 5 a.m. to study, and eventually to take a case with the Florence Project’s Children’s Pro Bono Program. No stranger to volunteering his legal services, Pat was honored by the State Bar as one of the top 50 pro bono attorneys in Arizona in 2022 and 2015.

When not working, Pat enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, tinkering with classic cars, and flyfishing.

Congratulations, Pat! The Florence Project is grateful for your partnership and thrilled to honor your contributions!

ADULT PROGRAM PRO BONO ATTORNEY OF THE YEAR- Alisha Herman

Shortly after joining Perkins Coie as an Associate Attorney, Alisha was already engaging with pro bono opportunities and quickly joined a team of attorneys representing an asylum-seeking Florence Project client, Ahmed*. Alisha has six years of experience as a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Officer, including work as a refugee officer and she also speaks fluent Arabic, making her a perfect fit to work with Ahmed, who is Yemeni.

Amid ongoing risks from the COVID-19 pandemic, Alisha visited Ahmed frequently and built meaningful rapport with him. She not only addressed the many issues in his appeal, but she also worked closely with the team’s Arabic Interpreter to document the many ways that faulty interpretation impacted his case. The trust that she created with Ahmed also proved vitally important when, distraught over conditions in detention, he began a prolonged, committed hunger strike. Alisha again rose to the challenge, defending his interest in court against forcible and often aggressive involuntary feeding.

Throughout all of this, Alisha never stopped advocating for Ahmed’s release, and after more than a year in ICE detention, Ahmed was released! Alisha invested heavily in hearing and understanding her client’s voice, before becoming his voice in the legal system. She literally became a lifeline for her client.

When Ahmed was granted bond, he was overjoyed and could not stop praising Alisha. He was thrilled to hear that she is being recognized for her work. “There are no words to describe what Alisha has done for me,” he shared. “She came to see me when I was dying, she cried with me. My mother and I pray for her. I am so happy for her to receive this award.”

Congratulations, Alisha! The Florence Project is grateful for your partnership and thrilled to honor your contributions!

VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR- Mahfoudh Jemaa

Mahfoudh has been volunteering as an interpreter with the Florence Project since May 2021, helping with multiple cases. However, it is the exceptional service he provided in one particular case that inspired us to honor him as our Volunteer of the Year.

Mahfoudh served as an interpreter for a pro bono case with Perkins Coie, interpreting Arabic for the team as they prepared their client Ahmed* for his asylum hearing, and then with Alisha Herman (our Adult Program Pro-Bono Attorney of the Year), as she represented Ahmed on appeal and before the U.S. District Court.

Mahfoudh was present during Ahmed’s first asylum hearing and was able to identify serious errors in the Arabic interpretation that contributed to his asylum denial. While the case was on appeal, he reviewed the audio of proceedings and worked closely with Alisha to document the many ways that the Court interpretation failed to meet ethical standards, and impacted the outcome of his case.

Efforts like these are not only critical within an individual case; they serve to educate the entire system, ourselves included, to the complex nature of linguistic barriers and language access. As Ahmed’s case progressed, Mahfoudh became as much of a cultural as a linguistic interpreter, helping his legal team to understand not only Ahmed’s words but their cultural context and therefore his meaning.

All legal work aside, our greatest challenge as immigration attorneys is to make sure our clients are truly seen and heard in this system. That crucial advocacy would be impossible without volunteers like Mahfoudh. His partnership with Perkins Coie in Ahmed’s case was truly lifesaving, and we are honored to recognize him for that exceptional contribution. Thank you and congratulations, Mahfoudh!

CHILDREN’S PROGRAM SPECIAL PARTNERSHIP- Crews’n Healthmobile, a service of Phoenix Children’s

Crews’n Healthmobile is an invaluable resource to our clients. Their mobile and fixed-site clinics provide free life-saving services to children and youth up to the age of 24. They provide everything from wellness checks, vaccinations, behavioral health services, counseling and more. If there is a service our clients need that the clinic cannot provide, they refer the patient to specialists who can also serve our clients free of charge. Most Florence Project clients do not have insurance coverage and cannot afford to pay out of pocket for medical care, so having a resource where our clients do not have to worry about payment is nothing short of lifesaving.  

“As a social worker at the Florence Project, Crews’n Healthmobile is such an important partner so our clients can access medical care in Spanish,” Shared Anna Marie Smith, LMSW, former Manager of the Children’s Social Services Team.  

The Florence Project is deeply grateful to Crews’n Healthmobile for providing such important services to our clients. Thank you! 

*pseudonym used to protect client privacy.

ADULT PROGRAM SPECIAL PARTNERSHIP AWARD- Osborn Maledon, PA 

For well over twenty years, Osborn attorneys have been emblematic of the Spirit to Serve Award representing our clients before the immigration courts and on appeal. Just this year, they have represented clients from countries as diverse as Mexico, Afghanistan, and Senegal. In recent years, Osborn has been a close partner in our efforts to represent our client’s needs through creative channels and in new venues.  

Since 2019, Osborn has also served, pro-bono, as our ethics counsel. As an organization in a high-stakes, rapidly changing area of the law, our ethical questions are both frequent and complex.  To have a direct line to a firm that is both versed in ethics, and understands our unique role in the legal system, is of immeasurable value.  

Ultimately, we think of Osborn as more than an excellent source for pro-bono placements. They are, quite literally, partners in our work. They are our brainstormers, our collaborators – the ones we can call on for everything from demand letters, to amicus collaboration, and to of course direct litigation. There is no straightforward path to justice for our clients. The needs, along with the legal system, are constantly changing. We are grateful for partners like Osborn Maledon, who are always with us as we pivot and push for a just system, and just outcomes for our clients. 

Thank you, Osborn Maledon for your partnership! 

Thank you to our Mission Sponsor Perkins Coie!