While it isn't the Fourth of July just yet, Citizenship Day helped legal permanent residents celebrate the joys of being an (almost) American citizen.
The sixth annual Citizenship Day event was held April 13 at Florida Coastal School of Law.
Local attorneys and law students volunteered their time and knowledge to guide legal permanent residents seeking citizenship status.
Volunteers counseled the applicants on properly filling out paperwork and what to expect during the naturalization process.
The Citizenship Day project received financial support from the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Florida Coastal, Zoe's Kitchen and Cocina.
Collaborating organizations included The Jacksonville Bar Association, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and several Florida Coastal student organizations.
In preparation for the event, the participating attorneys viewed a naturalization CLE webinar to gain knowledge on how to prepare the application and possible pitfalls.
Armed with knowledge and time, they helped provide free legal assistance to legal permanent resident applicants who were pre-screened for eligibility before the event.
The overall effort was coordinated by Florida Coastal professor Kara Roberts, a Jacksonville Area Legal Aid immigration attorney who teaches a skills lab course focusing on outreach to Northeast Florida immigrant residents.
"We continue to make this event better each year. The actual Citizenship Day event is really only one part of the entire effort that is implemented by the students," she said.
"Many hours of outreach in the immigrant community, applicant screening and event coordination are invested by the students prior to Citizenship Day. The students in my class recruit and coordinate the volunteer contributions of many student groups. We all congratulate and thank the dozens of students and attorneys who put time and effort into making this resource available to so many deserving applicants," she said.
Support of Citizenship Day is one of the JBA Law Week observances and it perfectly fits with this year's theme, "Realizing the Dream: Equality for All."
"I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it to be very rewarding," said John Wallace, a pro bono attorney and Law Week Committee member.
"The turnout was extremely impressive and it was apparent from speaking with those I assisted that the service provided is truly needed and appreciated. I will definitely be back in the future," he said.
While student volunteers helped the participants fill out the naturalization applications, participating pro bono attorneys counseled applicants about issues that might arise and whether additional legal assistance would be advisable.
Attorneys also ensured that applicants were eligible. Those who did not meet the eligibility requirements for the naturalization process were referred to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid for further pro bono representation.
About 120 legal permanent residents were assisted this year, making Citizenship Day another resounding and meaningful pro bono success story.
Many sincere thanks are extended to the attorneys who participated:
Ashley Armstrong, Jordan Beard, Ashley Benson, Rebecca Black, Tim Bramwell, Melissa Brown, Michelle Broyles, Melina Buncome, Paul Christensen, Beverly Clarke, Luke Cornelius, Shawn DeVries, Dulce Fazel, Brian Foley, Laura Gapske, Fred Gazaleh, Nancy Hale, Ada Hammond, Joseph Hamrick, Terrence Harvey, Millie Kanyar, Michael Lockamy, Shana Loomar, Jesse McIntrye, Kate Mesic, David Milton, Vanessa Newtson, Leslie Ng, Daniel Pasky, Nicolle Piquet, Belkis Plata, Scott Richburg, Teddy Rivera, Jodi Seitlin, Jean Stacio, Jenna Strom, Michelle White, Karen Winston, John Wallace, and John Woodlee.
For information about pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit or to be added to the list of attorneys interested in Citizenship Day 2014, contact Kathy Para, chairwoman, The Jacksonville Bar Association Pro Bono Committee, [email protected].