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Home / Press Release / Human Rights First Opening New Office in Houston to Meet Pressing Legal Needs of Refugees
February 10, 2014

Human Rights First Opening New Office in Houston to Meet Pressing Legal Needs of Refugees

Award-winning program of leading human rights organization expected to serve hundreds of asylum seekers in the Houston metro area through unique partnerships with South Texas College of Law and private law firms

Houston, TX  – Human Rights First today announced it will open a new office in Houston this April at South Texas College of Law, bringing its award-winning pro bono legal representation program to asylum seekers and attorneys in America’s fourth- largest city.

“Houston is a diverse and dynamic city where there is an increasing need for our services,” said Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “Hundreds of asylum seekers in Houston go unrepresented in a system where having a lawyer can mean the difference between return to persecution and the chance to start a new life in safety and freedom. Our Houston team will help to bridge the gap between this pressing need and the services currently available, giving the city’s pro bono legal community the tools they need to help.”

For more than three decades, Human Rights First has been providing high-quality legal representation through pro bono programs in the New York City, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., areas. The decision to launch a presence in Houston marks its first expansion in more than two decades, and its first ever beyond the East Coast.

Human Rights First’s award-winning pro bono asylum program is built on a unique partnership with lawyers at private firms.  Human Rights First’s expert legal team recruits, trains, and mentors lawyers who volunteer their time to help refugees navigate the complex bureaucratic process of seeking asylum protection through the U.S. immigration system. Every year, Human Rights First helps more than 700 refugees with free legal help donated by private law firms. Last year, this program leveraged nearly $30 million in services to aid indigent refugees in need of protection. The organization wins more than 90% of its cases.

“Protecting those who flee persecution is a core American value that requires resources, commitment, and vigilance,” said Massimino. “Those forced to flee their homelands in fear of persecution are extremely vulnerable. Many do not speak English, have suffered trauma, and are worried about family members left behind. They are not eligible for federal legal services and most are forbidden to work. Our volunteer lawyers are a lifeline to these refugees. Through our program, refugees gain safety and protection, and volunteer lawyers have the privilege of helping to make our ideals as a nation real in peoples’ lives.”

Human Rights First’s new office will be located on the ninth floor of South Texas College of Law in downtown Houston. President and Dean of South Texas College of Law Rear Admiral Donald J. Guter (USN, ret.) has been a longtime friend and partner of Human Rights First and was instrumental in bringing the organization’s Houston office to the law school’s facility.

“We are deeply grateful for South Texas College of Law’s warm welcome to Houston, and we are thrilled to be housed in its beautiful facility,” noted Massimino. “Dean Guter and his colleagues at the law school understand the need for asylum seekers in Houston to have access to quality legal representation; their generosity has been instrumental in enabling us to come to Houston and work with local attorneys to address that need.”

“We are proud to have Human Rights First open its new office here at South Texas,” Guter said. “This is an extraordinary group doing important work. This partnership will benefit our students and enhance the efforts of the law school’s asylum and human trafficking clinic, which benefit so many in the community.”

Human Rights First has also received a generous welcome from other Houston community leaders and looks forward to working with the city’s strong philanthropic community to meet the needs of those seeking U.S. protection.

“We are pleased that Human Rights First chose Houston as its newest home and we know our community will greatly benefit from the services they provide,” said Houston-based Human Rights First Board Member David Matthews, founder of Matthews & Associates. “I look forward to building a community of support for this valuable work.”

Human Rights First is now actively recruiting private attorneys and law firms interested in serving as pro bono counsel in asylum cases. For those interested in learning more about this opportunity or Human Rights First, please contact Jennifer Rizzo at 713-955-1360 or rizzoj@humanrightsfirst.org. Rizzo will also be in Houston from February 10-13 and is available for interviews and meetings with those interested in the program. Additional information is also available online atwww.humanrightsfirst.org/houston.

Media wishing to speak with Massimino should contact Corinne Duffy at duffyc@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.