Securing US Citizenship for Those Who Served

April 4, 2017
The National Law Journal
Pro bono team recognized on The National Law Journal “Pro Bono Hot List” for helping military veterans access benefits.

In its annual “Pro Bono Hot List” recognizing notable public interest achievements by law firms, The National Law Journal has honored Latham & Watkins for helping US military veterans apply for immigration status for which they are eligible due to their service to the country. In particular, the NLJ highlighted the case of Daniel Torres, an undocumented US Marine veteran who recently gained citizenship while he had no legal status in the US. The pro bono project is just one of many ways the firm supports military veterans and their families.

“We are thrilled to be recognized for our work on behalf of Daniel Torres and other deported and banished veterans,” said Wendy Atrokhov, the firm’s Public Service Counsel and Director of Global Pro Bono. “Latham has a long tradition of helping veterans of the US Armed Forces, from direct representation to offering counsel to organizations like Swords to Plowshares and National Veterans Legal Services Program. We are proud to assist those who have served.”

In the work honored by the NLJ, a Latham pro bono team led from the firm’s San Diego office has collaborated with the ACLU of Southern California to raise awareness that certain noncitizen military veterans qualify for benefits that allow them to naturalize as citizens of their adopted country, especially if they served during wartime. Torres, who was honorably discharged after serving in Iraq, was later unable to reenter the US from Mexico. He was advised by San Diego litigation partner Colleen Smith and associates James Erselius and Taiga Takahashi, who determined they could help Torres and others in his predicament pursue citizenship. “They’ve earned that right as a result of their honorable military service,” Ms. Smith said in the published NLJ profile, which noted that Torres' path to citizenship “was beset with logistical challenges, such as gaining him entry into the United States for a required in-person interview and fingerprinting.”

Torres ultimately prevailed, was sworn in as a citizen last April, and is currently working to finish his own legal education. The project team is now assisting six other US military veterans in Ecuador, India and Mexico in gaining citizenship. The efforts also recently earned the Latham and ACLU team recognition from the Daily Journal as “California Lawyers of the Year.”