Spotlight on Immigration Legal Assistance Project:
Its ideal location in close proximity to the Los Angeles office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services guarantees a steady stream of clients seeking solutions to their immigration problems.
Last year alone, the project assisted nearly 7,000 clients with the help of more than 50 volunteers who provided nearly 4,600 pro bono hours (an estimated value of more than $748,000). The project, having no geographic restrictions, assists persons from all countries and territories.
While overburdened USCIS information officers can spend, at most, a few minutes with each person—many times turning away those with difficult legal problems because either officers cannot give legal advice or can process only a limited number of inquiries per day—the Immigration Legal Assistance Project oftentimes provides the answers, short-circuiting fruitless hours spent in lines at the USCIS.
“I met Marie three years ago when she walked into our offices in downtown Los Angeles,” says Directing Attorney Mary Mucha. “With a broad smile and cheerful manner, Marie explained that she had been trying to extend her immigration status here but could not figure out how to maneuver through the government’s byzantine bureaucracy, also known as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. She had been repeatedly calling the 1-800 customer service number provided by USCIS but hadn’t been able to learn anything about the new status announced by then-President Bush. We scrambled to help, as the two-week deadline had come and gone. Since that time, Marie has visited us twice more, each time to extend her temporary status.”
Training for attorneys. The United States still remains an attractive sanctuary for those seeking family reunification, political refuge, or economic improvement. Besides helping the general public, the project dedicates a portion of its efforts to training attorneys, law students, paralegals, and volunteers in all aspects of immigration law and procedures. Twice a year, the project conducts a 13-hour training course for attorneys who are new to the field of immigration law or who have been practicing in the field for less than one year.
The project also provides immigration inquiries for the private immigration bar along with an attorney filing service for LACBA Immigration Law Section and AILA members. This past year, working with the Immigration Law Section, the project was responsible for coordinating Law Day activities, whereby professional legal advice concerning immigration cases was provided at points throughout Los Angeles County in an effort to deter the immigrant community from seeking out “notarios” or “immigration consultants” who take advantage of that population.
Interested in volunteering? The project, located at 300 N. Los Angeles Street, Room 3107, in downtown Los Angeles, (213) 485-1873, accepts attorney volunteers or students currently attending law school. Attorneys may be licensed in any state or waiting for the results of the bar examination. Neither law students nor attorneys need experience in immigration law, only an interest or willingness to learn.
The project asks for a commitment by attorney volunteers of one day per week for at least a 12-week period. No more than 10 volunteer attorneys are accepted during this time; however, there is no limit to the number of law students the project will accept. Office hours are Monday to Friday, 8 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Many attorneys volunteer only in the morning, some only in the afternoon, and others all day. The project is flexible and tries to accommodate the attorney’s schedule. Law student hours are controlled by the number of hours and credits they need to pursue according to their clinical director at the law school.
Volunteers learn immigration law and procedures and will be trained to put together USCIS packages for permanent residency applications, work permits, citizenship, travel permits, and the like. They also will learn the inner workings of the USCIS Los Angeles District Office and the California Service Center. To find out more about volunteering, click here.