For many immigrants facing an issue related to their legal status, the first place to look for help is not a law firm or a legal aid provider or even Google, but a trusted local community group. In the Chicago area, there are dozens of not-for-profit organizations with names like the Chinese American Service League, the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society, Latinos Progresando, and the United African Organization. These community-based organizations (CBOs) are often staffed and governed by people who share languages, cultures, and countries of origin with the people they help. They also provide ancillary assistance such as English instruction, citizenship classes, and other social services.
Many immigrant-serving CBOs are recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice and employ advocates who are accredited to provide representation before federal administrative bodies that adjudicate immigration matters. What most of these CBOs lack, however, is an experienced immigration attorney who can spot complicating legal factors, develop legal strategies to address thorny issues, and provide general oversight for program operations.
A Network of Legal Support for Immigrants
That is where the DePaul University College of Law's Legal Resources Project for Immigration Service Providers (LRP) comes in. Launched with four CBO partners in 1999, the LRP serves as a backup center offering training, technical assistance, and substantive legal expertise. The LRP currently works with thirty CBOs throughout Northern Illinois. The Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, which administers IOLTA funds in the state, was one of the original funders of the LRP in 1999 and has been a sustaining supporter ever since. Thanks to a recent increase in funding from the Lawyers Trust Fund, the LRP plans to add four to six new CBO partners in 2018.
Working with the Community
Sioban Albiol, the DePaul faculty member who directs the LRP, describes it as "a great example of what can be accomplished through collaboration."
"We rely on our community-based partners to inform us about the legal needs and challenges faced by their constituents, and we work to leverage our expertise and resources to help achieve better outcomes for individual clients and a better system for providing immigration services," Ms. Albiol said.
The thirty organizations that partner with the DePaul LRP represent the diversity of Illinois' immigrant population, providing assistance to individuals from scores of countries in dozens of languages. Some of these CBOs have a very small staff and assist immigrants from a single country living in a handful of Chicago neighborhoods. Others serve large swaths of suburban Chicago with newer, fast-growing immigrant populations.
The Long Reach of the Legal Clinic
The Legal Resources Project is part of the DePaul University College of Law's Asylum & Immigration Legal Clinic. In addition to Ms. Albiol, the project director and a clinical faculty member, the LRP employs three experienced immigration attorneys, a paralegal, and a part-time administrative assistant. Clinic students hungry for an understanding of the impact of U.S. immigration policies on individuals and families also have the opportunity to provide research assistance.
Dean Jennifer Rosato Perea of the DePaul University College of Law says that the LRP "reflects the law school's commitment to social justice and the university's Vincentian mission to help the most vulnerable." Dean Rosato Perea notes that the LRP's model "empowers and trains a network of advocates, which makes it possible to serve many more clients than the law school could otherwise."