A Teton County-based attorney has joined the staff of the ACLU of Wyoming to help protect the rights of immigrants.
Rosie Read started Dec. 1 as the organization’s first full-time immigration attorney. She started doing consultations last week. In her new job Read will tackle immigration-related litigation, advocacy and public outreach.
“I want to not only provide resources to individual folks but also address some more systemic issues and troubling trends that affect everyone,” Read said Monday in an interview with the News&Guide.
The ACLU of Wyoming describes Read’s role as helping individuals with immigration advice through consultations and representation, assisting attorneys through pro bono immigration services and working to identify and combat systemic issues affecting the immigrant community. The job will allow Read to help people who might not be able to afford private representation, which can be costly.
“We just have so few resources for those who are low income,” Read said.
ACLU of Wyoming Executive Director Heather Smith is a former immigration lawyer. She saw the need for more migrant legal aid when she moved to Jackson and started asking community members and elected officials to identify gaps in services.
“The thing that kept coming up was immigration,” Smith said. “It was clear we needed to do something to fill some gaps in immigration services.”
Smith and others started fundraising about a year ago and were able to secure the money needed to bring Read on full-time. Smith didn’t run into any fundraising challenges despite the pandemic, she said.
“The community really sees the need for this,” she said.
In 2018 and prior to that, Read was handling 100 or more cases at a time for Trefonas Law, PC. At that time she and Elisabeth Trefonas were the only two practicing immigration lawyers in Jackson Hole.
Their services were in such high demand that they notified the community they couldn’t accept any new cases unless it was an emergency.
Other organizations like One22 and Immigrant Hope helped alleviate the demand, assisting individuals with VISA and citizenship needs.
But deportation cases need lawyers with experience in immigration law, a field that’s specialized and always evolving.
Since the shortage of immigration attorneys was publicized in 2018, other private law firms have brought on staff members to tackle such cases, but their services can be expensive.
That’s where Read hopes she can make a difference, by taking complicated cases and continuing to collaborate with other attorneys and nonprofits in town to be sure needs are being met. Smith expects Read will be inundated with consultations, which is why she will also be hiring a legal assistant.
Expanding the program is a possibility down the road, Smith said, because the demand is great due to vast changes under former President Donald Trump, who shifted away from decades of policy centered around family reunification, asylum and safe harbor for refugees.
The Guttentag, Immigration Policy Tracking Project catalogued 1,064 actions related to immigration, including 57 presidential orders undertaken by the Trump administration between 2017 and 2021. The tracking project was started in 2017 by Lucas Guttentag, a law professor at Stanford and Yale. He worked with teams of law school students to keep a complete record of the Trump administration’s immigration actions.
“The carnage that has happened during the course of the Trump administration is incredible,” Smith said. “Just the amount of rollbacks ... decades of hard fought wins that were rolled back overnight ... it’s going to still take a lot of work.”
Smith said she hopes the ACLU of Wyoming can contribute to positive change.
“We don’t shy away from really difficult cases,” she said.
Read’s services will be open to anyone in Wyoming, with an understanding that a lot of the need is here in Teton County. Immigrants needing legal assistance can contact Read at 699-2875 or at ImmigrationHelp@aclu.org.