As the Firm’s pro bono partner, I often have the privilege of looking beyond individual matters to see how we can make a difference on a wider scale. And at times I drop everything to immerse myself in a particularly important cause. For the week of June 17th, I am proud to report that I will be in Dilley, Texas representing women and children detainees for 12 hours a day at the country’s largest immigration detention center.

Working with the CARA Family Detention Project, I will be among a steady influx of volunteer lawyers joining in person to aid this cause. CARA began in response to the significant expansion of family detention on the border.

Before I explain what I intend to accomplish, some background. What distinguishes Dilley is that the facility detains women and children seeking asylum, and is thus at the center of a growing national controversy over the treatment of immigrants. Detaining immigrant families, including children, didn’t start under the current administration but rather in 2014. The practice continues despite a nationwide settlement agreement in 1997, resulting from a class action lawsuit, where the government agreed that children in immigration custody would be placed in the “least restrictive setting appropriate to age and any special needs,” and would be released “without undue delay” to relatives or a licensed program willing to accept custody. It appears that the terms of this agreement are not being honored despite continued litigation.

The urgency of this story is seen in newspaper reports across the country. Children are increasingly being separated from their parents, many of whom are now being prosecuted for illegal entry into the U.S. Authorities are separating children from parents even when the parents are seeking asylum.

As for the legal claim of asylum, the Attorney General recently announced that going forward, “Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.” That decision, which purports to overturn prior authority allowing such claims, will expedite deportations and put thousands of people in jeopardy.

Beyond helping as many people as I can with their legal claims, I intend to see for myself how immigrants — and especially children — are currently being treated at our southern border. From a policy standpoint, my goal is to learn more about workable alternatives to detention. And while immigration work already is a substantial portion of Proskauer’s pro bono docket, the information gained here may help us decide how best to deploy our lawyers.

Finally, there is a personal element to all of this. When I turn off I-35 toward the facility, I will be honoring my own immigrant grandparents who escaped dire, lawless conditions to find refuge in this country. The fundamental issue as I see it is how the U.S. can deal effectively with the pressing issue of immigration without compromising the core values our country was founded upon, including respect for the law and human dignity.

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Photo of William C. Silverman William C. Silverman

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer…

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer lawyers and ensuring widespread participation in these projects.

Bill has robust private and public sector experience and a strong criminal and civil background. He has worked extensively on government investigations and white collar criminal matters, as well as complex civil litigation in federal and state courts. He also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he led criminal investigations, conducted trials and handled Second Circuit appeals.

Throughout his career, Bill has dedicated himself to the promotion of equal access to justice through pro bono service, particularly in the area of family court, anti-trafficking, and immigration.

Bill spearheaded a partnership among several law firms, corporations and the New York City Family Court to provide free legal advice to pro se litigants. The New York City Family Court Volunteer Attorney Program now has more than 400 volunteer attorneys from 40 major firms and corporations. Bill also helped build a coalition of organizations in a successful effort to secure additional Family Court judges in New York. He is now part of an effort spearheaded by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to simplify the New York Court System from 11 trial courts to three.

Bill serves as counsel to the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition. In that capacity he has been a strong advocate for changes in the law and public policy to protect victims of human trafficking and bring perpetrators to justice. He also represents individual clients in this area, including a successful federal lawsuit brought on behalf of a trafficking victim against her traffickers. For his work, he was named by domestic violence nonprofit Sanctuary For Families as one of “New York’s New Abolitionists.”

Bill has spoken at numerous conferences and events, including New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s Hearings on Civil Legal Services and the American Bar Association’s Equal Justice Conference. In 2014, he attended a meeting at the White House with Vice President Joe Biden and other policymakers on the need for access to legal services in immigration proceedings.

Bill has been recognized for his public service with the Abely Pro Bono Leadership Award from Sanctuary For Families and Columbia Law School (2019); the Special Leadership Award for All-Around Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility & the Law from City & State Reports (2015); the Commitment to Justice Award for Outstanding Partner from inMotion (2008); and the Matthew G. Leonard Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Achievement from MFY Legal Services (2007).

Outside of his work at the firm, Bill serves on various committees and non-profit boards. Bill is currently chairman of the Fund for Modern Courts, a non-partisan citizen organization devoted to improving New York State courts, and is formerly chairman of Legal Information For Families Today (LIFT), an organization devoted to unrepresented litigants in Family Court.