Supporting Our Clients in the Interim by Rescreening for Relief: T Visas Based on Labor Trafficking Along the Journey

Introduction

About this blog series: CILA’s blog post series, “Supporting Our Clients in the Interim by Rescreening for Relief” focuses on the need to consistently keep in contact with current clients and a best practice recommendation to assess their eligibility for other forms of relief and evaluate whether changed circumstances have occurred in their pending cases. For each post, the CILA team will use hypotheticals to highlight different types of legal relief that may arise in a client’s case or different scenarios that may affect a client’s pending form of relief from removal. This series is designed to help attorneys representing clients with long-pending cases. We also hope that this series will be particularly helpful to new attorneys and pro bono attorneys and that it will serve as a reminder for those already practicing unaccompanied children’s immigration law.

Rescreening for Relief: A Best Practice Recommendation

It is no secret that immigration cases take years to reach a result. A child may enter the United States and qualify for certain legal relief based on circumstances at that time, apply for that legal relief, and then wait years to receive a grant or denial of the requested legal relief. Child clients often turn into young adults—with many clients graduating high school, entering the workforce, and/or engaging in their communities—before they receive a definitive result of their legal immigration case. To put it simply, “life happens” while clients wait, and significant life events can shape a client’s current pending case or even give rise to a client qualifying for a different form of legal relief for which they did not previously qualify. That is why a best practice recommendation for practitioners representing children in immigration cases is to regularly rescreen clients for legal relief.

  • What does “rescreening for relief” mean?
    • Clients are often screened for legal relief at the very beginning of the case, typically soon after a client has arrived in the United States. This means that clients are evaluated or assessed for eligibility for legal relief based on facts present at the time of screening.
    • Rescreening for relief is a practice recommendation for advocates to reassess their clients’ eligibility for legal relief on a routine basis after a client has already been initially screened and determined to be eligible for relief. Rescreening for relief helps advocates determine if other facts or circumstances have occurred to render a client eligible for additional forms of relief.
    • The practice of rescreening for relief ensures that clients do not fall through the cracks—that is, this practice ensures that an attorney is aware of significant updates in a client’s life. In turn, the client does not miss an opportunity to apply for an additional form of legal relief from removal.
  • Rescreening clients for relief relies on communication between the attorney and their client, which is an ethical component and duty of legal representation.
    • Rule 1.4 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct deals with communication between the attorney and their client, and it lays out ethical duties involved with this communication.
      • For example, under this Model Rule, the attorney must reasonably consult with the client about the means to accomplish the client’s goals or objectives, and the attorney must also keep the client reasonably informed about the status of their case.
      • With this Model Rule, the attorney must also explain matters with the client to permit the client to make informed decisions about the legal representation.
    • With this Model Rule in mind, if a client’s objective is to obtain legal relief and remain in the United States, then there may be an ethical duty for the attorney to rescreen the client for additional relief to accomplish this goal.
  • Children’s immigration attorneys must act in accordance with the client’s wishes rather than what the attorney perceives to be the best course of action in the client’s interest. Yet, for a client to fully know and decide what they wish to do, the attorney must inform the client of changes and updates in their case and how these changes may affect the client’s case. If an attorney rescreens a client for legal relief and determines that the client is eligible for another potential legal relief, the attorney must give the client the information so that the client can then make an informed decision and determine whether they want to pursue this additional form of relief.
  • We see that sometimes rescreening does not occur or does not timely occur due to realities and challenges in the field. Many organizations providing direct legal services experience employee turnover that may make it difficult for legal staff to engage in additional screening of clients—on top of managing high caseloads and keeping track of pending cases with current deadlines and hearings. Sometimes it is difficult to coordinate or communicate with current clients due to factors related to the client. However, rescreening is imperative considering the overall impact that rescreening may have on a client or their ability to obtain legal relief from removal and the ethical obligations and duties owed to legal clients and related to the practice of communicating with clients.

Conclusion

While the scenario presented in the hypothetical is indeed hypothetical, the reality is that situations like Andres’ arise frequently. Some children are not initially found to be eligible for relief, for various reasons, but follow-up and rescreening can lead to positive results. In Andres’ situation, the attorney rescreened Andres for relief, and Andres gained a potential pathway to stay in the United States. Often, clients like Andres are initially thought to have no relief options, as legal staff does not explore certain aspects of their intake thoroughly, the child does not understand the questions or reasons they are being asked, or the child does not know if they can trust the legal staff yet at that first meeting.

We hope that CILA’s blog post series, “Supporting Our Clients in the Interim by Rescreening for Relief,” encourages the practice of rescreening legal clients for legal relief. Think of the difference you can make in your client’s case and the impact you can have on changing their life through rescreening. We hope that this series is informational and that it empowers attorneys to engage in the practice of rescreening.

Additional Resources

Do you have any questions or wonder if you have a client who may be eligible for a T visa? Feel free to reach out to the CILA legal team for technical assistance with any case questions, and stay tuned for other blog posts in this series, “Supporting Our Clients in the Interim by Rescreening for Relief.”