The National Pro Bono Celebration is Oct. 25 to 31, 2009. Each weekday in October, Texas Bar Blog will feature a Texas attorney who provides pro bono services in the community. Without lawyers like these, too many of our most vulnerable citizens would go without legal representation. For more on the national celebration, visit CelebrateProBono.org.
Jeffrey Stocks was reading an article about the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) in the October 2006 Texas Bar Journal and saw a list of upcoming training sessions. One was in Houston at the South Texas College of Law that December. He decided to attend. The next year, he took his first case for ProBAR, an asylum case involving a boy from Guatemala named Darwin (pictured with Stocks). Stocks won the case, earning the boy the opportunity to start anew in the United States.
Since then, Stocks has represented eight unaccompanied children in their asylum and Special Immigrant Juvenile status cases (he’s working on cases seven and eight now). In doing so, he’s had to learn about the intricacies of immigration law and working with clients who have come from situations of domestic violence, abuse, neglect, and abandonment.
“These are all unaccompanied minors,” said Stocks, who is a graduate of South Texas College of Law and CEO and owner of Gen-Tech Construction in Houston. “Many do not have family here or any family at all. It takes a lot of gumption for these kids to leave their country at age 15 and come here.”
To handle ProBAR cases, he commutes to the Rio Grande Valley, where children who have made their way from Central and South America are detained at the border. “There is such a need for volunteer attorneys down there. It’s a more remote location, so they don’t have as many resources,” Stocks said.
The cases can take anywhere from six months to a year to complete, but the benefits more than make up for the long hours or commute time. “It’s very rewarding. I stay in touch with every one of [the children] and encourage them to pursue an education. Three from more recent cases were placed in long-term foster care here in Houston, so I get to see them more often.
“The older I get, the more this kind of work is so important to me. This is very compelling to me. This makes a difference. I’m happy to do it.”