The Catholic University of America




The Charles and Louise O'Brien 2010 Fellowship Recipient

Catherine Birdwell

Catherine Birdwell, a rising third-year CUA Law student and the recipient of the 2010 Charles and Louise O’Brien Fellowship, has chosen to intern this summer at the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project in Harlingen, Texas.   

ProBAR is a 20-year-old joint project of the American Bar Association, the Texas Bar Association, and the American Immigrations Lawyers Association that focuses on providing legal services to detained immigrants in South Texas. Much of Birdwell’s work will involve representing jailed immigrants with criminal records.  
“These individuals made mistakes in their pasts, and because of these mistakes they now face deportation to a country where they have no family or friends,” wrote Birdwell in her application essay for the O’Brien Fellowship. “In some cases, deportation might bring the risk of serious harm or even death. Yet almost all these individuals are unable to obtain legal representation. While these individuals are guaranteed an attorney for their criminal conviction, there is no right to representation in immigration matters.”
South Texas currently has the largest number of detained adults and children in the United States. While many adults and children are undocumented immigrants arrested while trying to cross the Texas-Mexico border, many individuals were transferred from facilities elsewhere in the United States, originally coming from parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. ProBAR is the only office of its type in South Texas; its limited number of full-time staff work with pro bono attorneys and volunteers to try to help as many of these detainees as possible.
Birdwell, whose long record of volunteerism and pro bono service includes tutoring low-income children, raising money for individuals with cerebral palsy and helping look after young children who were HIV positive, plans to practice immigration law after graduation.
The Charles and Louise O’Brien Fellowship was endowed to provide a summer stipend to selected students from the rising first- or second-year day classes, or the first-second-or third-year evening classes. Eligible students may submit an essay that describes how they seek to integrate their religious perspective with their eventual practice of law. The students must demonstrate this integration through a summer placement, and the fellowship stipend will support that summer placement. Fellowship recipients are chosen by a panel of three attorneys, each representing a successful integration of religious perspective with a professional career. The 2010 fellowship recipient receives $6,000.