The Catholic Charities Pro Bono Project is particularly thrilled to share the success of recent legal and non-traditional advocacy for its clients in ICE custody. Attorney Sophia Genovese was brought on to the Pro Bono Project’s team last year to provide legal services to immigrants who are detained by the government and help address the gaps in aid for incarcerated immigrants. Many of her clients have prior interactions with law enforcement and are often held by ICE with no other hope of release or reunification without legal help, and Sophia’s work is a first step towards a systemic solution. The Pro Bono Project provides these individuals with comprehensive legal information and works with partner organizations to advocate for their release.
The primary focus of Sophia and her team is to get incarcerated immigrants released from ICE detention. They often will continue to work with clients to halt their removal proceedings after release, but getting out of ICE custody is the main goal for her clients. Over the past year, Sophia has negotiated with the US Attorney’s Office, filed humanitarian parole requests to ICE, advocated for clients with local elected officials, and worked with local community organizers in launching public release campaigns for her clients.
The Pro Bono team advocates for their clients in any way necessary, using different resources and techniques with each client. Sophia says she will often use persistence and public pressure to get her clients’ cases noticed. “I bothered ICE every day for months, going all the way up to their D.C. headquarters,” she says about a recent case in which she negotiated the release of a medically vulnerable client from nearly two years of detention.
The Pro Bono team’s major victory in a case out of the Batavia Detention Center in upstate New York is a prime example of Sophia’s non-traditional advocacy. The client in the case was transferred to Batavia as retaliation for leading a hunger strike to protest conditions in the Essex County Jail in New Jersey. This client continued his hunger strike in Batavia and worked with Catholic Charities to negotiate his release. Catholic Charities collaborated with local organizers to support their client in his hunger strike and fight for his release. ICE eventually agreed to release the client if he ended his hunger strike. Sophia and the Pro Bono team were instrumental in this release, and the client is now actively involved in the release campaigns for other incarcerated immigrants now that he is released.
Sophia believes that the liberation of immigrant communities cannot be achieved through lawyering alone. It takes collaboration across multiple fields to achieve social justice and change. As part of her advocacy, Sophia often works with other community groups such as Justice for Migrant Families, Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, and The Abolish ICE NY-NJ Coalition, and she is proud to be part of communities coming together to help each other.