Monday, February 13, 2006
Immigration Pro Bono Opportunity
Dear Puerto Rican Bar Association:
Greetings from the Legal Services Center for Immigrants, a special project of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. We are presently in great need of pro bono attorneys to represent immigrant victims of domestic violence in their immigration cases. Even though our pro bono project has over thirty-five trained volunteers, we are still unable to provide a volunteer attorney to every victim who comes to us for help. We hope that the Puerto Rican Bar Association can help us assist these victims by promoting this volunteer opportunity to your members. In addition to changing lives, our volunteers gain valuable training in immigration law, and have flexibility in choosing when to complete the work.
Because our current immigration system is largely family-based, many immigrants who suffer from domestic violence will stay in abusive relationships because their abusers hold control of their future immigration status. The passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) by Congress in 1994 provided immigrant victims of domestic violence the ability to file VAWA self-petitions, allowing them to seek immigration benefits without any participation by their abuser. The Legal Services Center for Immigrants has two attorneys and two paralegals who represent VAWA petitioners and has trained and mentored over 35 private attorneys in the Chicago area to prepare and file VAWA cases.
Ana is an undocumented client whose case currently needs placement with a pro bono volunteer. She married her husband, a U.S. Legal Permanent Resident, in Mexico. A few months after the wedding, they crossed the U.S. border at El Paso, Texas, and have now lived in the United States for eight years and borne several children here. Sadly, their marriage has been filled with physical and emotional violence. In one of the worst incidents, Ana’s husband pulled her off their bed, dragged her down stairs and cut the phone lines so she couldn't’t call the police. Her bruises, witnessed by neighbors, were visible for days afterwards. Ana’s husband submitted an immigration petition on her behalf, but often threatens to cancel her papers and uses this leverage to control her. He threatens to take her children away from her on a daily basis. Although he has been less physically violent recently, she still walks on eggshells trying to keep him tranquil, and plans to continue living with him until she can obtain her green card.
You can help clients like Ana by volunteering with our project. Training for the VAWA is available online in the form of a web-cast video. The web-cast lasts 2.5 hours and is accompanied by our comprehensive VAWA Pro Bono manual. We will be applying to have this training approved for MCLE credit. Following the online training, volunteers are invited to our office to meet the staff and have any remaining questions answered. We estimate that an advocate’s first VAWA case will take between 10 and 25 hours to complete, and we ask that volunteers send us completed petitions for our final review within 2-3 months of accepting a case.
Attached to this letter is a brochure about our VAWA pro bono project. If you are interested in participating, or have questions, please contact the pro bono coordinator Sara Murray, or one of the attorneys listed below.
VAWA Pro Bono Coordinator
Legal Services Center for Immigrants
VAWA Staff Attorney