A lawyer based in Teton County has joined the Wyoming ACLU staff to help protect immigrant rights.
Rosie Read began as the organization’s first full-time immigration attorney on December 1. She started holding consultations last week. In her new job, Read will deal with immigration disputes, advocacy and public relations.
“I don’t just want to provide resources to individuals, I also want to address some systemic problems and worrying trends that affect everyone,” Read said in an interview with News & Guide on Monday.
The Wyoming ACLU describes Read’s role in helping individuals with immigration advice through consultation and representation, assisting attorneys through free immigration services, and identifying and addressing systemic problems affecting the immigrant community. The job allows Read to help people who may not be able to afford private representation, which can be costly.
“We have so few resources for those on low incomes,” Read said.
Heather Smith, executive director of ACLU in Wyoming, is a former immigration attorney. She realized the need for more legal assistance for migrants when she moved to Jackson and began asking parishioners and elected officials to identify gaps in services.
“The thing that kept coming up was immigration,” said Smith. “It was clear that we had to do something to fill some gaps in immigration services.”
Smith and others started fundraising about a year ago and have raised the money needed to bring Read on a full-time basis. Smith did not come across fundraisers despite the pandemic, she said.
“The community really sees the need for this,” she said.
In 2018 and before, Read was handling 100 or more cases concurrently for Trefonas Law, PC. At the time, she and Elisabeth Trefonas were the only two practicing immigration attorneys in Jackson Hole.
Their services were in such demand that they told the community that they could not take any new cases unless it was an emergency.
Other organizations such as One22 and Immigrant Hope helped alleviate the demand and assisted individuals with VISA and citizenship needs.
However, deportation cases require lawyers with experience in immigration law, an area that is specialized and constantly evolving.
Since the shortage of immigration lawyers was announced in 2018, other private law firms have hired staff to address such cases, but their services can be expensive.
Here, Read hopes she can make a difference by picking up on complicated cases and continuing to work with other lawyers and nonprofits around the city to ensure that needs are met. Smith expects Read to be inundated with consultations, which is why she will also hire a paralegal.
Expanding the program is a possibility, Smith said, given the big changes under former President Donald Trump, who turned away from decades of policies of family reunification, asylum and a safe haven for refugees.
The Guttentag, Immigration Policy Tracking Project, cataloged 1,064 actions related to immigration, including 57 presidential orders issued 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 students to fully record the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
“The slaughter that has happened over the course of the Trump administration is incredible,” said Smith. “Just the number of rollbacks … decades of hard-fought victories that were rolled back overnight … it’s going to be a lot of work.”
Smith hopes the Wyoming ACLU can help create positive change.
“We don’t shy away from really difficult cases,” she said.
Read’s services are open to anyone in Wyoming, with the understanding that much of the need is here in Teton County. Immigrants in need of legal assistance can contact Read at 699-2875 or [email protected]