January 18, 2019 Dialogue

Grantee Spotlight | Taking Community Involvement to a New Level

The DePaul University College of Law’s Support for Immigration Service Providers

By Mark Marquardt

Introduction

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."

Roundtable Discussion

Roundtable Discussion

(Chicago, January 18, 2018) The DePaul University College of Law’s Legal Resource Project for Immigration Services Providers sponsors a roundtable discussion for the legal staff of immigrant-serving community-based organizations.

Serving an Unmet Need at an Uncertain Time

The need for immigration-related legal assistance is overwhelming. There are approximately 1.7 million immigrants living in the state of Illinois, including an estimated five hundred thousand who are undocumented. The uncertainty created by rapidly changing immigration policies and procedures makes access to accurate, up-to-date information and personalized assistance especially critical.

The LRP services to CBOs fall into three main categories:

1. Training & Information
Immigration law is a complex, fast-changing field, and the LRP is committed to making sure that CBO partners have access to the information they need to provide appropriate and effective services. Each year the LRP organizes four half-day workshops on major topics in immigration law, as well as semiannual roundtable discussions that are open to all CBO partners. The LRP provides intensive basic training for new CBO staff members and can produce customized, on-site training on a particular issue. In addition to in-person trainings, the LRP offers a bimonthly newsletter with practice and policy updates and hosts a listserv to share sample pleadings, memoranda, and answers to frequently asked questions.

Catherine Norquist is the Immigrant Legal Services Director at World Relief DuPage/Aurora, a CBO partner for the past fifteen years. Ms. Norquist says that her organization "takes full advantage of DePaul's technical assistance, training, and roundtables, all of which have helped our program competently represent not just more clients, but in more complex cases."

2. Substantive Legal Expertise
As immigration law becomes increasingly complex and consequential, the LRP is available to consult with CBO staff members on individual cases. Each year, LRP staff and students respond to approximately eight hundred discrete, case-specific inquiries about complex fact patterns, questions of legal interpretation, and procedural challenges.

"I can honestly say that we would not be as successful today without the continued support of the [DePaul LRP] team," said Jane Lombardi, Director of Citizenship & Immigration Services at Erie Neighborhood House. "The staff is always available to discuss cases and they respond quickly with updates about immigration law or policy changes."

Catherine Norquist from World Relief offers that "DePaul staff routinely assists our office in researching and analyzing other countries' laws on guardianship, custody, marriage, and divorce. This is particularly useful with our refugee and asylee populations."

While a handful of CBOs do employ staff attorneys, they tend to be recent law school graduates with limited experience. They are often the only lawyers working in their organizations, which can be isolating and stressful. To support these attorneys, the LRP hosts a monthly case review meeting for attorneys employed by CBOs. These gatherings help newer practitioners spot issues, learn from peers' experiences, build practical knowledge, and ease their sense of isolation.

3. Technical Assistance
To help build the capacity of CBO's immigration legal services programs, the LRP staff provides technical assistance related to administrative and management issues involved in running a high-volume legal practice. This includes promoting best practices in areas such as client screening, case management systems, case handling works flows, and fee structures. Staff members from the LRP frequently step in to assist during times of transition, such as retirements or parental leave. Finally, the LRP helps CBO staff apply for and maintain accreditation from the Department of Justice, by providing training and writing letters of support. In addition to regular telephone and email contact, LRP staff members conduct approximately fifty site visits per year to partner organizations.

"We can support CBO partner staff in making a difference in a case outcome, which is significant for the individual or family that's impacted," Ms. Albiol said. "But our technical assistance work is what really has a multiplier effect."

Conclusion

The bottom line is that CBOs are an essential part of the ecosystem for providing immigration legal services, but are often underresourced in terms of staffing and legal expertise. Bringing multiple CBOs together in a technical assistance network, whether run by a law school, a legal aid program, or some other entity, is a cost-effective way to expand and enhance capacity. It is obviously much less expensive than trying to sustain a staff attorney at every organization but also has more impact than relying on CBO staff to call in favors from their network of informal advisers every time they encounter a new challenge.

"In speaking with organizations across the U.S., other states do not necessarily enjoy a similar support structure," said Jane Lombardi of Erie Neighborhood House. "So we are extremely grateful to the [DePaul] clinic and its team."

Mark Marquardt

Executive Director, Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois

Mark Marquardt is the executive director of the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois. He has served in that position since 2015 and has been with the organization since 1991.