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Kirkland & Ellis Leads Pro Bono Effort to Help Ukrainian Refugees Apply for Temporary Protected Status

Kirkland & Ellis and Lawyers for Good Government are recruiting Big Law attorneys and in-house corporate lawyers to advise more than 1,000 Ukrainians on how and whether to apply for temporary protected status.

What You Need to Know:

  • Kirkland & Ellis and Lawyers for Good Government are matching more than 2,200 pro bono lawyers with Ukrainian refugees as they apply for TPS.
  • Refugees should seek legal counsel as they navigate the forms to avoid semantic errors that could hurt their chances, Kirkland pro bono counsel Jacqueline Haberfeld said.
  • Roughly 66,000 Ukrainians in the U.S. will look to gain TPS, which allows them to stay in the country until at least October 2023.
  • Kirkland & Ellis and Lawyers for Good Government, a nonprofit legal advocacy group, are coordinating a pro bono legal effort to help Ukrainian refugees in the U.S. as they seek temporary protected status, an immigration status that allows them to stay in the country until at least October 2023.

With little marketing of the service thus far, Kirkland pro bono counsel Jacqueline Haberfeld said more than 1,000 Ukrainian refugees have expressed interest in legal counsel as they fill out the forms, which include questions for which lawyers’ advice may be helpful in maximizing a refugee’s chances of gaining TPS.

Haberfeld said 2,200 lawyers from more than 100 large law firms and corporate legal departments have already committed to counsel the refugees on the applications, which take about four to five hours if translation services aren’t required.

“We would like to make this opportunity available to all Ukrainian refugees in the U.S.,” Haberfeld said.

The American Immigration Council estimates there are roughly 66,000 Ukrainians in the U.S. who will look to file for TPS, including 34,000 with no identifiable status, 27,000 with legal temporary status, and 5,000 in the U.S. through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Haberfeld said she expects many more potential applicants to sign up for help via a link to a screening form, which helps applicants determine whether they’re good candidates for TPS or whether they need more sophisticated immigration assistance.

Most of the pro bono lawyers involved aren’t immigration lawyers, but everyone who gets assigned to a refugee will have completed virtual training on the TPS forms and has access to mentors within the program to help with individual questions.

Haberfeld said the group has been advising refugees to seek legal counsel as they navigate the forms because their outcome may be determined by the way they word additional information that explains their responses to potentially disqualifying questions.

“One question on the form asks if you have ever received any type of military, paramilitary, or weapons training,” Haberfeld said. “It’s a yes-or-no question. If you’re a Ukrainian man, you have to check yes, because they have mandatory conscription, but then you go ahead and explain why you had to check yes. It’s not disqualifying even though it comes between two other questions that are clearly disqualifying.”

The prior question effectively asks applicants if they’ve ever been an arms dealer, while the following question asks if they’ve unlawfully voted in a U.S. election.

The screening process also refers refugees out to immigration lawyers if they have a more complex case, such as having committed a misdemeanor, and it lets people know if they aren’t eligible so they can avoid wasting money on filing fees.

The collaboration between Kirkland & Ellis and Lawyers for Good Government is one of several in recent years. Haberfeld, who also serves on the nonprofit’s board of directors, also helped coordinate the Lawyers for Racial Justice initiative, which formed in spring 2020 to mobilize pro bono resources that promote racial justice. Kirkland also assisted on another spring 2020 initiative with the nonprofit aimed at helping small businesses secure financial support through the CARES Act at the onset of the pandemic. And in an ongoing immigration initiative, dubbed Project Corazon, Kirkland works with other law firms, organizations, and Lawyers for Good Government to provide legal resources for asylum seekers who arrived from various countries.