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Peter Schey, Tenacious Lawyer Who Defended Migrant Rights, Dies at 77

Peter Schey, a driven defender of the human rights of migrants crossing the Southern border, who won landmark legal cases requiring humane care for undocumented children and the right of migrants to attend school and receive health care in states that tried to bar those services, died in Los Angeles on April 2. He was 77.

His death, in a hospital, was caused by complications of lymphoma, said Melinda Bird, a former wife.

Mr. Schey (pronounced shay), an immigrant himself, from South Africa, ran his legal practice as a small nonprofit group in Los Angeles, making a major impact even as his workaholism and impatience drove away other public interest lawyers who tried to work for him. He took on both Democratic and Republican administrations in Washington.

He was a leader of the legal team that negotiated the seminal Flores Settlement Agreement, a 1997 government measure safeguarding detained, unaccompanied migrant children. He fought the Trump administration when it tried to tear up the deal 21 years later.

He also argued and won the case throwing out California’s Proposition 187, a voter-passed initiative to deny undocumented migrants social services; the victory was seen as a political watershed in the rise of Latino voting power.

“He dedicated his career to bringing legal representation to vulnerable groups who didn’t have another way to speak for themselves, who were at the mercy of the government,” said Hope Frye, an immigration lawyer who sometimes worked with Mr. Schey. “I don’t care how much the government pushed their hob-nailed boots in, he never backed down an inch.”

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