AILA's Pro Bono Newsletter

Pro Bono Newsletter, Summer 2012

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Planning, Partnerships Key to Philadelphia's Citizenship Day by Judith Bernstein-Baker, Valentine Brown & Lisa Felix T by mid-autumn. Our AILA pro bono team—consisting of Judi Bernstein-Baker, Valentine Brown, and Lisa Felix—met over the summer to begin planning. We decided that in order to facilitate naturalization in time for the elections, we would hold Citizenship Day a month earlier than AILA's nationally designated date. Our team worked remarkably well together; we each had specific roles and supported one another. Judi worked on outreach and on training attorneys and law students; Valentine organized and chaired collaborative conference call planning meetings and also conducted attorney training. Lisa developed attorney training packets and applicant packets and contacted the media. All three of us shared community presentations. he Philadelphia Chapter of AILA held its annual Citizenship Day on March 31, 2012. As a result, we expect to welcome 73 new American citizens AILA Citizenship Day uses a two-step process to maximize outreach and the number of completed applications. We felt that education about the citizenship process could be combined with screening applicants, which in itself is a service to the community. In addition, holding citizenship information sessions in community- based settings would be an opportunity for additional AILA pro bono involvement. Finally, we felt that by working with community groups we would reach low- income applicants, our target service group. We had already worked with some community groups in past years, but this year, due to the involvement of the Mayor' Commission on Literacy, were able to partner with new groups which had active English Language programs. In "On Citizenship Day, 37 attorneys and 31 volunteers interviewed 76 people, and 73 applications were completed. ... Because of the in-person information sessions and pre-screening, the number of completed applications increased significantly." addition, the Mayor's Commission on Literacy staff set up a website providing information about events and a mechanism for attorneys and volunteers to sign up for training sessions and presentations. Eight groups agreed to perform outreach and host community information sessions at various times beginning in mid-March. At each session an AILA attorney made an hour long presentation on the eligibility for citizenship and the process itself. Following the presentation, AILA attorneys and trained community volunteers interviewed individual applicants to assess whether the individual had both the legal eligibility and language skills needed to apply for citizenship. Complicated cases—such as those with potential disability claims or those with criminal issues—were considered too complex for Citizenship Day and were referred to nonprofits or private attorneys. Once screened, each applicant made a specific appointment at one of the four Citizenship Day sites, and received a list of items to bring on Citizenship Day. s Two hundred forty individuals were screened at the community information sessions. About 20% were eligible for fee waivers based on income. On Citizenship Day itself, 37 attorneys and 31 volunteers interviewed 76 people, and 73 applications were completed. Several attorneys took more than one case so each applicant could file a G-28. (Under our model, we required participating attorneys to submit a G-28, which permits attorneys to track and trouble shoot cases on behalf of the applicant.) In previous years we saw about the same number of applicants, but were only able to complete about 70% of the applications either because individuals' cases were too complex or because they lacked needed documents. Because of the in-person information sessions and pre-screening, the number of completed applications increased significantly. The project built bridges between the immigration bar and the larger pro bono community in Philadelphia. Many of the attorneys who participated were non- immigration attorneys who were trained beforehand. AILA members served as mentors. Seventeen local organizations collaborated for Citizenship Day, and interest in citizenship has remained high. The information session model had other positive consequences; there was tremendous goodwill generated between the community groups and Philadelphia AILA. These efforts are laying the foundation for a citywide approach to citizenship and several groups expressed the desire to collaborate beyond the Citizenship Day event. Judith Bernstein-Baker, Esq., is the executive director of HIAS Pennsylvania. Valentine Brown is a partner with Duane Morris, LLP in Philadelphia. Lisa Felix concen- trates her practice on employment immigration. www.aila.org 3

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