CILA’s 8th Anniversary: Get to Know Us Through 8 Staff-Submitted Stories

This September, CILA celebrates 8 years of commitment to our mission of empowering all advocates who guide children and youth through complex legal procedures, to do so with courage, competency, compassion, and creativity. Our hope is to ensure more immigrant youth are represented and to provide the resources and expertise needed to support those who endeavor to represent them.

A BRIEF HISTORY: Our story started when the number of children entering the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) increasedDalia and Yasmin, both attorneys working in the nonprofit children’s immigration world at the timesaw the need for a legal resource center that could support legal service providers and practitioners interested in doing pro bono work representing children and youth facing removal proceedings. In 2014, Texas did not have many legal resource centers, and none made serving unaccompanied immigrant minors an exclusive focus. With this in mind, our fearless leaders presented their plan and worked tirelessly until CILA became the ABA’s newest immigration project! There is more to this story! Click here to learn more. 

Our wonderful staff reminisced about our work so far and wished to share some memories with you: 

WONDERFUL BEGINNINGS: We began operating in the fall of 2015. South Texas College of Law in downtown Houston gave us some great space at a great price, and we began the work of setting up our office and securing the technology we needed to provide our core services. Everything began here, in an empty former courtroom located on the 9th floor of the law school. We had great neighbors that included KIND Houston, the Young Center Houston, and Human Rights First. On the floor above us lived the South Texas College of Law Clinics. We even had a physical library and our neighbors could "check out" our books. This all seems light years away now, but those were good times!


BOOT CAMPS: We have enjoyed our Boot Camps over the years from being an in-person event focused on advocates in Texas to being held via Zoom and expanded to national audiences. It's been a fun way to get engaged with advocates new to the field and provide information and training from the start. We have a lot of fun with it including music during breaks and a mini graduation ceremony. The training brings together the full CILA team and fantastic external speakers. The CILA playlist, cultivated over many years, has been so enjoyed! And during the height of the pandemic especially, it was nice to bring a smile to everyone's faces with the music and an opportunity for pets to get involved in our mini dance parties.

2023 CILA RETREAT: In 2023, we held CILA's first team retreat in Houston which was an amazing opportunity for the team to get to know everyone better, particularly since our team significantly grew and because we have team members in several locations. We had fun reflecting on our work, what we do well and how we can improve, as well as brainstorming for the future. It was an amazing time to connect and spend time together. The retreat was complete with team-building games and enjoying food and miniature golf. Team members shared baby pictures and we had to guess who was who. Staff members showed off their golf skills or lack thereof and competitive or silly natures. Many laughs were enjoyed together.

UNIQUELY COLLABORATIVE: CILA is unique! As a collaborative work environment, we all bring different backgrounds and perspectives both professionally and personally. At CILA, we try to create a safe space to share our viewpoints and opinions on projects. With collaboration, the process isn't always neat but with mutual respect, we create even better work product. And it shines through. This is truly unique and one thing that makes CILA great.

MOVING DAY: The CILA team moved to our current location in the Houston Heights area in 2022. Houston-dwelling staff came in to help and while packing up printer equipment and white IKEA coffee mugs, we joked and had fun! Peep Dalia and Yasmin’s cool CILA shirts and sibling behavior!

JUANES AND CILA: CILA team members always enjoy hearing the back story of a picture of Dalia, Yasmin, and Juanes. It turns out, Dalia and Yasmin attended his fan event in hopes of convincing him to speak at one of our conferences! He did not become a guest speaker that year, but we did get a wonderful picture for posterity! It makes us laugh to hear the story every time!

A FRIENDLY COMPETITION: Working at the office has its perks! We get to see and experience each other’s office fashion! One time though, Yasmin and Mireya wore the same shirt to the office! To celebrate the fun occurrence, we hosted a small who-wore-it-best competition. Of course, both ladies look awesome, so it was a tie!

(CILA) PURPLE POWER: Since our national expansion, we have doubled our staff! CILA has a strong and talented crew! This month and beyond, we recognize all the amazing work that CILA staff do! Their contributions impact hundreds of advocates, their clients, and their communities! Thank you all so much!

In the mood to celebrate with us? Here are some ways to connect with CILA:

  • Technical Assistance: Ask CILA a question about a legal or social services issue.
  • Working Groups: Join us for a virtual working group meeting to hear updates on issues and learn from your colleagues. Get to know someone new in this community of advocates.
  • Resources: Check out CILA’s written resources on our website to continue to strengthen your advocacy skills.
  • Trainings: Learn the basics of immigration law and take a deeper dive by attending CILA trainings.

Reach out to the CILA team to let us know how we can support you in your advocacy efforts! Thank you for being a champion for immigrant youth! We appreciate all the trust and support you have given us these past 8 years!