One hand touching another hand in a comforting gesture

BMO’s Impactful Pro Bono Legal Program for Asylum Seekers

“The human rights violations that are occurring around the world are devastating, and this feels like a concrete way to be able to help,” says Ashley Kenny, Senior Compliance Officer, BMO, of BMO’s pro bono legal program. “Donating money is a great way to show support, but I also wanted the hands-on aspect of being able to directly impact someone’s life in a more tangible manner.”

Theresa Duckett, Senior Counsel, BMO, who helped create the program, agrees. “A lot of people can’t afford the legal services they need, and my skills can make a difference in their lives.”

BMO’s pro bono program provides legal services to low-income and vulnerable clients who would otherwise not have access to those services. Launched in 2015, it now runs in five cities – and counting. In 2018, nearly 200 BMO volunteers – who don’t have to be attorneys to be involved in the program – completed more than 1900 volunteer hours working in the North American pro bono program. The program has been so successful that other banks have reached out to us, looking to create similar programs. We’re proud to lead by example in this important area.

Recently, BMO’s pro bono volunteers in the United States have been assisting in handling asylum matters, helping young immigrants who were brought into the country as children in renewing their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications and working with low-income immigrants to complete their naturalization applications to become U.S. citizens.

Last summer, the program celebrated their first asylum case win. Working with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), a division of Heartland Alliance, BMO attorneys Jeremy Zuba and Jamie Benjamin and attorneys from the Neal Gerber Eisenberg law firm represented a transgender woman from Mexico who suffered severe physical and emotional violence in her home country.

BMO has since gone on to represent many clients in similar situations. BMO Counsel Zain Ali recently won a case representing a 23-year-old gay Nigerian man who was the victim of profound abuse. “He lived in constant fear of arrest and imminent threats of death in his home country. He managed to escape to the United States on a short-term visa, and through the assistance of the National Immigrant Justice Center, we partnered to counsel and represent him throughout his asylum process. We assisted in submitting his asylum application, counseling him through the interview process, and ultimately representing him at his hearing. The entire process spanned the course of six months.”

Zain is proud to work for a company where he is encouraged to use his skills to help out in his community. “I’m very grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given throughout my life. Among them, I have the privilege of working in a supportive and inclusive environment here at BMO, where community outreach is fostered – and encouraged.”

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