Once again, the issue of immigration reform has been thrust to the forefront of American politics. Currently, much of the news is focused on the controversial legislation recently enacted by the Arizona legislature requiring police to stop any person they deem “reasonably suspicious” and demand proof legal residence. There has been no shortage of news coverage (and news parodies) regarding the problems of determining who is “reasonably suspicious”, and the questionable constitutionality of the law. On the other side of the immigration spectrum, Governor Patterson of New York announced on May 5, 2010 that he plans to create a five member panel to review and pardon (if deemed appropriate) immigrants who had minor or old convictions, many of which may have been committed decades ago. Under current immigration law, long time lawful permanent residents in the United States face removal for relatively minor crimes like shoplifting – even if those crimes occurred decades ago. While Arizona’s legislation and Governor Paterson’s new panel seem to be taking opposite approaches to immigration, the one issue they both demonstrate is the need for national immigration reform.
Immigration reform is a topic that comes up repeatedly in the United States, often around election time. But many people believe that in light of the extreme, and possibly unconstitutional, Arizona legislation, national immigration reform will soon become reality. Until such reform is passed, however, there are many ways attorneys who are interested in performing pro bono service can help immigrants.
- VAWA: In 1994, Congress included immigration provisions to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in order to enable legal and illegal immigrants to safely escape a domestic violence situation where they might otherwise fear deportation or other immigration related penalties. In 2000, Congress extended immigration relief to immigrant victims of sexual assault, human trafficking and other violent crimes who agree to cooperate in criminal investigations or prosecutions. Namely, VAWA prevents the Department of Homeland Security from deporting individuals who qualify for relief under the Act. Unfortunately, many immigrants who may qualify for VAWA relief are unaware of their rights, or are unable to negotiate the procedure of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
- Self-Petition to Remove Conditional Status: Many immigrants who obtain conditional permanent resident status for a two year period through a marriage to a US citizen may be unaware that should the marriage fail and the parties get divorced, the foreign national may self-petition to remove the conditions of his/her permanent resident status.
- Asylum: People who come to the US claiming asylum and escaping persecution in their home country require legal assistance to navigate this critically important process.
- Naturalization: Many legal permanent residents are not aware, or are afraid to file for naturalization and become a US citizen. In today’s political climate, it is more important now than ever to inform legal residents of the naturalization procedure and benefits, and assist those in need with the process.
Attorneys can volunteer with the agencies listed below to provide assistance to immigrants in need. These legal services agencies provide the training and support attorneys need to represent foreign nationals in various immigration matters. Interested attorneys should contact the following agencies for more information:
- Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago
- National Immigrant Justice Center f/k/a
The Midwest Immigrant & Human Rights Center
- Chicago Volunteer Legal Services