To grow up American in all ways but one – having proper documentation – is what it means to be a dreamer. Being undocumented renders one nearly incapable of functioning as a regular member of society. It means calling in sick during the day of a school field trip that asks you to bring a form of government ID. It means being unable to get a job to fund and pursue higher education. It means being ineligible for most healthcare benefits during a pandemic.

Last week, in partnership with The Door, we hosted a virtual Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) clinic to assist 10 pro bono clients with preparing their initial DACA applications. The DACA program provides eligible, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16 with a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation, along with work authorization and the ability to apply for a social security number.

The clients shared stories about their fearful journeys to the United States as young children (those who were old enough to remember) and their concerns about whether they would be allowed to remain in the only country they have known for most of their lives. One of the clients expressed her desire to become a nurse, but that she was unable to pay for her education due to a lack of a work permit. She had to drop out of community college after a semester and desperately wanted to return to school. Having been in the United States since she was four, she conveyed the pain and sense of isolation she felt being considered “illegal” in the country she calls home.

On September 5, 2017, the U.S. government announced that it would terminate DACA, and in response, several lawsuits were filed to preserve the program. On June 18, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the rescission of DACA was “arbitrary and capricious” and remanded the case for further proceedings. In response, the Department of Homeland Security did not fully restore DACA but released a memorandum on July 28, 2020 that made serious alterations to the program. Among other things, it announced that all first-time DACA applications would be denied and renewal applications, if approved, would only provide one-year extensions.  It was not until December 7, 2020, following additional litigation, that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it again would be accepting first-time applicants for DACA.  Legislation recently proposed in Congress would provide DACA beneficiaries a path to citizenship.

Robert G. Gonzales, a Professor of Education at Harvard, conducted interviews with 408 DACA recipients and recently published research that presented how DACA had an immediate and positive impact on their families and their own adult trajectories. He explained, “DACA in the short term is, I think, inarguably the most successful policy of immigration integration we’ve had in the past three decades. It’s provided a boost to immigrants and their families.”  Gonzales described how, for undocumented adolescents, the first time they realize the limitations imposed on them by their immigration status is “a waking nightmare.”

For the 643,430 DACA recipients whose DACA is still active as of March, 2020, having DACA status came with more benefits than just the ability to obtain driving licenses, open bank accounts, and get jobs that gave them financial independence. DACA brought recipients a greater sense of belonging and security.  As we completed the paperwork for the client whose dream it was to become a nurse, her face lit up as she told us we were “super heroes without capes,” a moment we are unlikely to forget any time soon.

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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.