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Equal access to justice covers an ever-expanding territory for the ABA.  Whether addressing the legal needs of immigrants or the accused’s right to a fair trial, ABA lawyers pursue solutions as changes in our society continue to complicate a growing number of legal access issues. 


A never-ending pursuit for criminal justice

ABA’s Criminal Justice Standards, first published in the tumultuous 60s, were described by Chief Justice Warren Burger as “the single most comprehensive and probably the most monumental undertaking in the field of criminal justice ever attempted by the American legal profession in our national history.”

In the years since, American’s top minds in criminal law completed a second edition and are adding volumes to the Third Edition.  New standards address the use of DNA evidence and cases involving those with mental health issues.

The Standards are referenced in Supreme Court cases, federal appellate cases and throughout the work of prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges and academics focused on criminal justice.


Due process on Death Row

The competence and expertise of defense counsel is the single-most important factor affecting the fairness of the death penalty.  Addressing this and related issues is the ABA’s Death Penalty Representation Project.

Each year, Project staff offers training at dozens of seminars for judges and lawyers in the United States and abroad. The Representation Project also works with local stakeholders to implement reform of their death penalty systems and to ensure fairness, due process and effective legal representation.

In addition, the Project recruits lawyers to provide pro bono representation for prisoners, to challenge methods of execution and prison conditions, and to file amicus briefs at the United States Supreme Court. Opportunities abound for lawyers from all backgrounds to aid in these efforts.


Whatever challenges present themselves, we will continue…working to ensure that no person faces the death penalty without a legal champion by his side. We will continue to speak out with the voice of the legal profession wherever fairness and due process are threatened.

Emily Olson-Gault, Director, ABA Death Penalty Representation Project


Under the rule of law, we owe due process to all, including those who face deportation.

ABA Past President Linda KIein


Serving unaccompanied children at the border

The South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) is a national effort to provide pro bono legal services to asylum seekers detained in South Texas by the United States government.  A critical focus is the Children’s Project, which served more than 15,000 children in 2016 alone.

People need to have information and a way to engage with the law  and feel like they really have a chance.

Meredith Linsky, Staff Director, ABA Commission on Immigration

The children in ProBAR’s Children’s Project are among the most vulnerable individuals in need of legal representation in the U.S. today. They are separated from family and detained in remote facilities where they will eventually face removal proceedings in immigration court.

They range in age from newborns to teenagers. Most do not speak English and have limited education. Many are victims of violence in their homes, their communities or during their journey to the United States.

ProBAR helps these children understand their rights and works to unite them with family within the United States who can give them a home.

“When I won asylum I promised myself in my heart, and I promised the Judge from my heart that I would not let her down.  From that moment my goal was to give the best of me and do something good with my life.  When I won my case with ProBAR, my life changed color.  To be there was like the start of a great beginning.” – Claudia, National Honor Society member, won asylum in 2007


Crossing the Border from Horror to Hope

Kids in very adult situations.

That’s how Kimi Jackson, director of ABA’s ProBAR, describes the children she meets through the organization’s Children’s Project.

Fleeing gang violence in Central America, they cross into the United States perched on the top of trains and crowded into buses.  They wind up in immigration detention centers in South Texas.

“They’re hungry and in desperate need of a shower, but we don’t see them for the first few days,” Jackson said.  “They’re just in survival mode and not ready to hear about their legal rights.”

ProBAR, the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, in Harlingen, TX, was created in 1989 in collaboration with the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the State Bar of Texas.

Its purpose was to recruit and train pro bono lawyers to represent detained Central American asylum-seekers.  At that time, they were grappling with about 5,000 adults and children seeking safety in the US from war-torn nations in Central America.

The landscape has changed in the passing decades, and the need has exploded.

Last year, ProBAR Children’s Project served more than 15,000 children who crossed into the United States unaccompanied by an adult.

“Things just aren’t getting any better in Central America,” Jackson said.   Children are desperate to escape the violence.

Once across the border, they are detained by Customs and Border Protection in a holding facility, nicknamed The Freezer for its chilly temperature.  From there, they are moved to shelters where they are screened to determine whether they are eligible for sponsorship by family living in the United States.

ProBAR is charged with providing “Know Your Rights” presentations, individual screenings and pro bono representation, and referrals for those with sponsors.

Approximately 90% of the children will be reunified with family or friends in the United States pending their hearings, but they must return to immigration court and defend against a removal order.

They travel all over the United States in order to reunify and, according to the government, have no right to appointed counsel in the immigration court process. If they don’t return to immigration court when scheduled, they will receive an in absentia removal order.

Jackson said the most pressing need is for attorneys who will represent these children in communities throughout the country where they have relocated.

There’s not enough pro bono resources to go around, she said, so every day children get sent back to the horror they tried to escape.

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