Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I was a lawyer and business owner before retiring from the practice of law in 2018. I was a litigator at two Baltimore firms, and served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Maryland in the early 90’s. Toward the end of my active law practice, I did a lot of class action work.
What has retirement been like?
It’s more like semi-retirement. I volunteer two days a month with PBRC’s Maryland Immigrant Legal Assistance Project (MILAP) and handle a couple of other civil cases on the side. It’s a perfect mix of retirement and work.
How did you get involved with MILAP?
My daughter Kate is very active in the immigrant rights community, and she was volunteering as an interpreter. She suggested that we do the clinic together, and who could refuse that? I started when I was still working full-time as a lawyer and kept on going after I retired.
What was it like working with your daughter as your interpreter?
She helped me overcome some of my early nervousness, which was a reversal of roles and thus very special. Working with Kate also made me appreciate how important an empathic interpreter can be to really understand the client’s needs.
What do you do with MILAP?
Our clients are typically young immigrants who have entered the country over the frontier, been apprehended, and released to family or a sponsor. Often, it’s a mother with young children who have an upcoming court date where the government is seeking their removal back to their home country. Before the pandemic, we would interview them, with an interpreter, at the federal building right after they had left immigration court and the judge had given them time to prepare a defense. Now we interview them with the interpreter on a video call. We gather information to see what legal options they may have, such as Asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), or certain visa programs. Based on what we find out, we provide initial counsel and a roadmap for getting additional help with the next steps in their case.
Is there a moment or a memory that stands out for you?
There was a young woman we were interviewing, who we slowly but surely learned had been lured to this country to serve as an unpaid maid and nanny for a family and was being held as a virtual prisoner in the home. It was a classic trafficking case, and the entire MILAP staff snapped into action. Within hours, that woman was in a safe place, getting medical attention and legal protection. I hope we changed the trajectory of her life.
What do you find interesting about the work?
It's inspirational. Our clients are the hardest-working, most determined people I’ve ever met. They’ve overcome hardships and abuse that would have stopped most people dead in their tracks, but they endured. They want to work. They want a better life for their children. This is our story. This is America.
What do you find frustrating about the work?
Immigrants are the lifeblood of this country. I am the grandson of immigrants. I believe we should be welcoming immigrants with open arms and open hearts. Instead, we hound them, cage them, and make them feel like criminals. Sadly, many can only stay in this country if they are victims of some persecution or abuse in their home country. Simply wanting a better life for themselves and their children is not enough to stay, and that’s the real crime.
What keeps you doing pro bono?
The two days a month I volunteer with MILAP give me more satisfaction as a lawyer than any two months I ever worked in private practice. I see my grandmother in my clients, and I want to do what I can to help them achieve what my family was able to achieve in this country.
What message would you give to an attorney who is considering volunteering?
You may be tempted to think it’s too complicated to learn, but it’s not. PBRC will train you to handle the cases, and the MILAP staff provide incredible support and real-time mentoring. The rewards are incalculable. You will only regret you didn’t volunteer sooner.
For more information about volunteering in Maryland, contact:
Dave Pantzer, PBRC Director of Education, Outreach and Technology