by Nancy Kinnally
Krystin Montersil, a 2017-19 Equal Justice Works Fellow, is working on a project at Catholic Legal Services, Archdiocese of Miami, to address a specific problem faced by undocumented immigrants with U.S.-born children.
She is creating training materials for pro bono attorneys and organizing pro se clinics to help parents complete emergency family preparedness plans in the event the parents are detained or deported.
Montersil, whose two-year fellowship is sponsored by The Florida Bar Foundation, hopes to involve pro bono attorneys in her project and create a replicable, statewide model.
“The goal is to create partnerships right now with firms or pro bono coordinators at firms that would be able to facilitate that training and put me in touch with that pool of potential pro bono attorneys,” Montersil said.
The plans include identifying and establishing who would be the children’s legal guardians and caregivers and creating a card the children can carry with the contact information for those individuals. Something as simple as that can prevent a child from being placed in the custody of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) instead of with his or her extended family or trusted friends.
“It really affects the stabilization for whole communities when you have families torn apart, children put into a system,” Montersil said. “It creates a real strain on various services, so anything that can be done to prevent that and make it as stable and as seamless as possible for those parents and children is ultimately going to affect other parts of their lives and other communities that they come in contact with every day.”
Emergency plans also reduce the trauma the children experience when their parents are removed from their homes.
“The children can continue to go to school with as little disruption as possible to their lives and daily routine,” she said. “Also, if the child is placed with DCF it becomes extremely difficult for the parents to get information while they are detained about any proceedings that are taking place at the state level for their children. A lot of times they won’t really know what’s going on and in the worst case, parental rights could potentially be terminated without the parents knowing because they are detained and don’t have access to counsel or appropriate information.”
She said pro bono attorneys need not have experience in immigration, guardianship or family law to help.
“It’s something they can easily be trained to do confidently, efficiently, and it will have great ramifications for the clients they’re going to serve,” she said.
2018-20 Equal Justice Works Fellows Named
Greenberg is funded by Greenberg Traurig and The Florida Bar Foundation. The other fellows are funded by the Foundation through its Bank of America grant program.
The Foundation also will fund three Equal Justice Works Disaster Recovery Fellows. The fellows, who will start 2-year disaster recovery projects in 2018, will be embedded at local civil legal aid providers.