Tuesday afternoon Jason Rittereiser announced that his law firm, HKM Employment Attorneys, is offering pro-bono legal advice to "federal and state employees who refuse to enforce Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents," according to a press release.
Federal employees who don't want to separate an asylum-seeking mother from her child, tell kids in cages that they can't hug each other, or otherwise do anything else they reasonably believe isn't legal can contact the firm.
HKM operates out of 8 different states, including Washington, but firm partner Dan Kalish says their lawyers can represent federal employees anywhere in the United States. "We don't have to be licensed in Texas to represented a federal employee in Texas."
Kalish suspects there's a lot of people out there who might consider not abiding by an order to separate the families if they knew they had free legal advice. Pointing to a recent lawsuit filed by the ACLU, which claims the government has been "illegally jailing asylum seekers with credible cases for months on end in an attempt to deter them and others from seeking refuge in the United States," Kalish says the courts haven't decided on the legality of a number of actions being taken at the border right now.
Deborah Sundblad, a managing partner who handles all federal employee cases at HKM, walked me through a very broad possible scenario. Let's say you're an agent who doesn't want to separate an asylum-seeking mother from her child, and so you decide not to and get fired or reprimanded for insubordination. At any point during that process you can contact HKM and ask for legal advice.
"An employee in this situation may have union grievance rights, and/or they might have appeal rights to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, and/or to the Office of Special Council," Sundblad said. "Which of these rights an employee has is going to be based on which agency they're with. Whichever one they elect first is the office they're stuck with, so it's really important to make an educated decision about which forum best suits their claim. There are a lot of exclusions and provisions, and so it's important to get advice."
Sundblad cautions that all situations will be very fact-specific, so it's hard to give a one-side fits all approach. Kalish says "there's no promise ahead of time" that they'll file a lawsuit on the employee's behalf, but he hopes federal employees will think about taking a stand.
"The least we can do is provide them free legal advice—we can't guarantee they'll win, and we can't guarantee we'll take their case, but we'll talk them through the pros and cons free of charge. And if we do represent them, we'd do that for free as well," Kalish said.
Kalish said that Jason Rittereiser, a partner at HKM who is running for Congress in Washington's 8th Congressional District, called him up Monday and asked if the firm would provide pro-bono legal assistance to agents who didn't want to separate kids from their families, and he thought it was a good idea.
"This particular issue is very new," Kalish said. "Usually you don't get these commands from on high that are so morally wrong. This is just horrific."
HKM is a private firm offering services to federal employees, but The Texas Tribune created a list of firms and organizations currently providing services for asylum seekers and other families separated at the border, so check them out too.