AILA's Pro Bono Newsletter

Pro Bono Newsletter, Summer 2011

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Roots of AILA’s Citizenship Day Trace Back to AILA Washington Chapter By Bonnie Stern Wasser A ILA’s annual Citizenship Day began in 2005 when Washington Chapter member, Paul Soreff, and other community immigration advocates, saw the need for pro bono services across the State of Washington. The program was organized through a Citizenship Day Subcommittee within the Chapter’s Pro Bono Committee working with community organizations. Washington State’s first Citizenship Day rolled out at 12 locations throughout Washington. Sites were selected on the basis of where the need was greatest, especially in more rural areas where there were fewer immigration attorneys available. The response by both the AILA bar, local social service providers and hosts was tremendous. The many clients served were most appreciative to have the opportunity to meet with an attorney. Aſter this first Citizenship Day, Paul Soreff, then Chair of the Washington Chapter, presented the idea to AILA National. Other AILA chapters responded favorably to the idea of a pre-packaged Citizenship Day model including forms, procedures, and resources created by the first Washington State Citizenship Day team. Thus was born AILA National’s first citizenship day event across the country in 2007. Today, AILA National’s Citizenship Day is hosted by more than 20 AILA chapters throughout the country. In 2008, AILA Washington began to partner with a Washington-based immigrants rights organization, OneAmerica, to organize more Citizenship Day events across the state. OneAmerica secured funding through the State legislature as part of a State Immigrant Integration initiative. With their paid staff and excellent media skills and connections, OneAmerica provided logistical support to expand the program to more days and sites. Together, AILA Washington and OneAmerica created the Washington New Americans program that expanded Citizenship Day in 2009 to four days a year at 15 locations. Citizenship Day is supported by a dedicated corps of volunteers including attorneys, paralegals, interpreters, translators and local volunteers. Since most of the other sites are located anywhere from an hour to four hours away from Seattle, participating in Citizenship Day oſten requires a full day or more commitment for many volunteers. This burden on volunteers is alleviated through grant funding for reimbursement JUMP! to learn how AILA Chapters participated in AILA’s annual Citizenship Day on April 5! >> That year, Bonnie Stern Wasser was Chair of a newly created Citizenship Day Committee formed from the Chapter’s Pro Bono Committee because of the new partnership and resources devoted to the expanded project. With its media and staff resources, OneAmerica created Washington New Americans and introduced an innovative ethnic media campaign utilizing ads in eight different languages on buses, newspapers, radio, and television that reached over 15 million households. They also worked with several nonprofit organizations as subcontractors to help identify people who needed attorneys for more complicated cases. Subsequently, OneAmerica received a new citizenship outreach grant from USCIS, which helped to expand the program further. With several years’ worth of data, AILA Washington and OneAmerica fine-tuned the program this past year aſter determining which sites and dates were most effective. OneAmerica and its subcontractors provide pre-Citizenship Day outreach as well as post-filing preparation for the naturalization exam. In addition, the local USICS office is very active in the community promoting citizenship and supporting AILA’s program. of gas, ferries and hotels. AILA site coordinators are matched with local site coordinators and together they coordinate the facilities, food, and local site-seeing or social hours aſter the events. The events are oſten hosted at local community colleges and churches. Citizenship Day has proven to be a good way for new attorneys to work with mentors, to get real world experience and to learn immigration law. The program develops the pro bono spirit among attorneys and has been a great opportunity for chapters to build relationships and coalitions with immigrant advocacy organizations in the community. Recent AILA Washington Citizenship Day chairs have included Kripa Upadhyay and Chris Helm, who are available for further information. Bonnie Stern Wasser is chair for the Washington State AILA Chapter. She has been an AILA member for 25 years. As a solo practitioner, she handles business and family immigration, citizenship and naturalization, and asylum matters. She is one of the original editors and creators of AILA’s Immigration PracticeToolbox. 5

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