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Austin attorneys to represent 100+ separated families for free

Jesus Funes, 19-months, cries as his mother, Diva Funes, both immigrants from Honduras, holds him after being escorted back to Reynosa, Mexico, Thursday, June 21, 2018. The family, who was seeking asylum, said they were told by officials they would be separated so they voluntarily returned to Mexico. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Austin-area attorneys are stepping up to help separated families. On Monday, lawyers without immigration backgrounds will get the tools they need to represent migrants in detention centers for free. Some mothers separated from their kids are already here in central Texas.

"I'd love to be down there helping in any way that I can," says attorney Erica Grigg.

Grigg is one of 100 Austin attorneys learning how to represent the parents whose kids have been taken from them.

"It is so important to me to get down to the border and show these families and show these children that Americans are kind and Americans want to help, and some Americans are disgusted and disturbed by what has happened to them," Grigg says.

The 2-hour training is happening Monday afternoon with help from the Austin Bar Association and University of Texas's Immigration Clinic. About 50 more attorneys are waitlisted for the course and law firms across the country plan to live-stream it. Immigration attorney Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch is an organizer.

"We've asked everyone who signed up to agree to take a case, so they'll all be getting clients out of this," Lincoln-Goldfinch says.

Some of those clients are mothers currently housed in a Hutto detention center -- potentially hundreds of miles from their children.

"Some of these families are lost in the system. We know of about 20 women in the Austin-area, but there are certainly more. We just have to find them," she says.

The newly trained lawyers will help separated families start applying for asylum by getting them out of detention centers and scheduled for interviews.

"The credible fear interview is a short interview at the beginning of the asylum process just to make sure that this person qualifies to move forward," Lincoln-Goldfinch explains. While she is relieved the policy of family separation is ending, she's now focused on what's to come.

"It looks like we're going to continue to see rights violations against asylum seekers and prolonged family detention," Lincoln-Goldfinch says.

Grigg set aside enough of her own money to head to the border for a month. She says she's eager to work for free and help bring families back together.

"I'm not an immigration lawyer, but however-- wherever I'm needed… if it is holding a baby... I'll do it," she says.

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