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Thu January 21 2021, 12:30 // Posted by Matthew Fong

Attorney Lee Gelernt and his fight for access to justice

Corvum believes lawyers are heroes: they advocate and fight for the rights of others, providing access to justice. One such hero is attorney Lee Gelernt, one of many immigration law attorneys fighting for the rights of children separated from their families at the U.S. border.

Who is attorney Lee Gelernt?

Lee Gelernt is an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. He is the lead attorney advocating and fighting for the rights of immigrants seeking refuge in the US. Gelernt has been discussed in multiple news sources, specifically revolving around cases against the Trump administration.

Fighting the rights of those seeking refuge

Since the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigrants and asylum seekers at the southern U.S. border was put in place in 2018, the ACLU filed a national class action lawsuit against the U.S. government, led by attorney Gelernt. Many pro bono attorneys have also assisted numerous migrant children in hopes of reuniting them with their families. It has been two years since, and the Trump administration has continued to detain refugees and make the reunification process difficult.

In July 2020, legal groups, including attorney Gelernt sued the US government to “stop the expulsion of children detained in hotel rooms by the Trump administration under an emergency declaration citing the coronavirus.” Once news leaked about the detainment, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement relocated the children but did not state where they were being relocated. On July 24, 2020, attorney Gelernt filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government and stated “the Trump administration [was] holding children in secret in hotels, refusing to give lawyers access to them so it can expel them back to danger without even a chance for the children to show they warrant asylum.”

As of December 2020, more than 600 migrant children have not been reunited with their families. Attorney Gelernt was at the forefront advocating for the Trump administration to disclose new or additional data to help locate families.

Going above and beyond for access to justice

Lesly Tayes, a Guatemalan human rights lawyer and Lee Gelernt, lead ACLU lawyer, are part of an effort to reunite parents in Guatemala with their kids still being held in the U.S. They are standing in the central park in Chimaltenango, a town about two hours west of Guatemala City, Guatemala. Alternative text courtesy of NPR.
Lesly Tayes, a Guatemalan human rights lawyer and Lee Gelernt, lead ACLU lawyer collaborating to reunite parents in Guatemala with their children being held in the U.S. Image courtesy of John Burnett via NPR.

Attorney Lee Gelernt went out of his way to search for the parents of these children, travelling out to Guatemala. Gelernt and other volunteers were fortunate enough to locate families and explain their rights, providing the options available moving forward. While attorneys are those who fight in courtrooms, Gelernt encourages “students to organize, volunteer, and to continue to keep the issue in the public light,” ensuring that government malpractice doesn’t  get swept under the rug.

At Corvum, we value the drive Gelernt has to seek justice for those who have experienced traumatic familial separation out of their control. Attorneys like Gelernt bring a positive light to the legal sector, and are examples of exceptional legal professionals.