“They are clients, but they are also all kids,” Horne says. “They are young people who need help and support like any 12-, 20- or 25-year-old.”
She sees some very tough cases: young survivors of abuse, poverty, and sexual assault; middle school girls pregnant by rape; pregnant teen survivors of abusive homes who are convinced that their pregnancy will give them a new family until the father beats them to cause a miscarriage; high school students trying to do homework while caring for babies with serious disabilities; incest and rape survivors; young mothers struggling to recover from tragedy, including a mother whose 18-month-old son died after his mother’s new boyfriend “accidentally” bathed the baby in scalding water; and a mother whose infant who was shot to death in a mistaken identity drive-by shooting.
Horne has appeared in court thousands of times, but in contrast to many attorneys, advocacy does not alone define her practice. “These are some of the most vulnerable clients any lawyer can have,” Horne says. “They are dealing with serious legal issues and trauma while still struggling with all of the developmental issues all young people face and they are often without the positive adult support that all young people need.” The social work (or “public benefits”) side of Horne’s practice with teen parents helps her create a positive relationship with clients, many of whom lack a positive, trusting relationship with adults.
She strives to balance her different roles, building trust and working to help her clients build a stable foundation for a future for themselves and their children.
“All lawyers have to think about their relationships with their clients and they need to establish trust,” Horne says. “Most of my clients have never had an attorney client relationship, don’t know what to expect, and have an expectation that adults, particularly adults from a different socio-economic background and race, will disappoint them. Establishing clear expectations, not making promises I can’t keep and keeping all promises I make is very important to me. You also have to find out what is happening that day to that client. When you’re 16, unable to access benefits, and worried that you can’t feed your own baby, nothing else matters.”
More complex problems—child custody or support, restraining orders, divorce, paternity—emerge in the confidentiality between attorney and client, particularly valuable for teen clients in crisis who may have nowhere else to turn for help. The Teen Parents brochure emphasizes the program can “answer confidential questions.”
The Teen Parents Project gets referrals from clients but also from San Mateo County public health nurses; Horne herself visits the three San Mateo County high schools that have teen parents programs.
Targeted to parents ages 19 or younger, the Teen Parents Project won’t represent clients in criminal cases or advise the teen’s parents or adult partners about their legal issues. In September 2017, Horne had 140 open cases—an astonishing number that she explains by noting that immigration cases tend to move slowly.
Since around 2003, the Teen Parents Project began increasingly to address immigration issues for clients. Although Legal Aid has another immigration division, Horne handles immigration cases for her clients.
Dreamers (for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA) are a portion of the immigration workload. One of Horne’s Dreamers completed training to become a Certified Nursing Assistant just a few weeks before President Trump announced the DACA phase-out. Now, because her permission to work in the U.S. may expire in March 2018, she cannot find a job in a field with a shortage of workers.
Other applicants seek “U visas,” a non-immigrant visa available for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of aliens or other crimes who are willing to assist law enforcement in investigating or prosecuting those crimes. Only 10,000 U visas are issued each year, so the three-year backlog means Horne has clients still waiting for a decision on their 2014 U visa applications.
In one case, a homeless family moved in with a relative. Shortly, the relative began sexually molesting the guests’ teenage daughter. When the victim complained, the relative threw the entire family out onto the street, claiming the girl made up the story. Legal Aid managed to get the whole family U visas.
Other clients seek Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJ) status for foreign children in the United States who cannot live with their parents because of abuse, abandonment or neglect. Horne has helped children as young as four years old seek SIJ status.
Horne started in this work before law school, when she had worked with court-involved youth. “I thought it might be clearer to help them directly as a lawyer.”
Horne graduated second in her 1993 Stanford Law School class, clerked for Judge Alfred Goodwin in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and in 2007 was inducted into the San Mateo County Women’s Hall of Fame for her Legal Aid work.
How has the work changed over the last 24 years? “We do a lot more immigration today,” she said. “And I’m older—initially I felt like a peer, especially when my own daughters were young. But now I’m older than the parents of my clients.” She had expected that when her own two daughters, ages 21 and 16 today, reached the age of her clients, she would move to other work. Not so far.
“Lately, we feel much more under siege and hopeless. The housing in this county is more and more unaffordable and families are more and more crowded with 3 or 4 families each occupying a room in an apartment. Also, under the Trump Administration, the immigration processes are much slower and sometimes hostile. Politics have made it worse--people are really, really scared—worried that families will be torn apart, even when the children are citizens.”
Horne’s vision for 20 years down the road takes a decidedly political turn: “These kids have worked unbelievably hard, followed all of the rules, and are helping to make our Country truly great. Turning our backs on them now is not only cruel beyond imagination, but foolish.” She would undo everything that Trump is doing in immigration enforcement, starting with making the DACA program permanent.