BMO’s pro bono legal program for asylum seekers
At BMO, we are driven by our purpose to Boldly Grow the Good in business and life and we strive to use our resources and expertise to help the individuals in the communities we serve. In 2015, BMO’s legal department launched a pilot pro bono program that provides legal services to low-income and vulnerable community members who are unable to afford these services. Since its inception, over 200 BMO volunteers have dedicated their time and knowledge to helping out individuals in five cities with legal advice and representation in court.
It all started when Theresa Duckett, Associate General Counsel joined her colleagues to partner with the Center for Disability and Elder Law (CDEL) to prepare advance directives including living wills and powers of attorney for senior citizens in the Chicago area. Since then, with the support of BMO leadership and other employee volunteers the program has continued to grow.
Recently, volunteers Candice Korkis, Senior Counsel P&C U.S. Legal and Jamie Benjamin, Senior Counsel, Legal & Regulatory Compliance worked with an associate at the law firm Neal Gerber & Eisenberg to secure asylum for a high-profile victim of transphobic and homophobic violence in Malawi. The individual had been arrested, attacked and harassed repeatedly for being part of the LGBTQ+ community. She fled to the U.S. for asylum as she was certain that she would be abused if she were to return to her home country.
Candice and Jamie picked up this case in May and filed nearly 400 pages in support of her petition in mid-October, including the application, an affidavit, a legal brief, letters of support and hundreds of pages of articles and reports documenting the dangers LGBTQ+ individuals face in Malawi. In early November, the individual was awarded asylum in the United States.
Thanks to the hard work of all of the volunteers that worked on this case, the individual is now safely living in the U.S. and BMO continues to represent many other individuals and families in tough situations.
Written by Ishita Walia, Corporate Communication Manager in Chicago, IL. Ishita has been a part of the communications team at BMO for almost two years and enjoys traveling and cooking in her spare time.