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Jax Daily Record Monday, Jun. 22, 201512:00 PM EST

Pro bono spotlight: Attorneys help immigrants become U.S. citizens

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by: Kathy Para

Low-income, immigrant clients needed help and pro bono attorneys stepped up to assist.

Northeast Florida has a substantial immigrant population made up of thousands of hardworking, community-oriented people.

Many have met the requirements for citizenship but need help completing their applications or filing the complicated form required if the person is seeking a fee waiver.

These are people who have fled political unrest, extreme poverty or violence in their home countries. They are here working for a better life for themselves and their families.

Ten of them were referred to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid after being screened at the annual Citizenship Day at Florida Coastal School of Law.

Although the vast majority of people served at the annual Citizenship Day event submit their applications for naturalization that day, some have circumstances that need to be addressed separately in the application process.

For these, it’s advisable to have an immigration attorney who can help ensure that the immigrant’s safety and status are not jeopardized.

On June 10, JALA emailed 10 case summaries to area immigration attorneys asking who may be willing and available to consider a pro bono case or two.

Within 24 hours, 11 attorneys responded and within a week, all 10 clients were placed with pro bono representation. These are some of the clients who are now being served by pro bono attorneys:

• Client seeking assistance from an immigration attorney in filing for U.S. Citizenship but needs a medical waiver due to a permanent disability.

• Elderly client seeking assistance in obtaining a waiver for taking U.S. Citizenship test.

• Client seeking assistance in obtaining proof of children’s citizenship once client becomes a U.S. citizen.

The attorneys who stepped up to consider and accept cases included Ardian Gjoka, Ericka Curran, Joanne Fakhre, Michelle White, Jeremy Lasnetski, Rebecca Black, Rohany Karya, April Scott, Vanessa Bernadotte, Enrique Barquinero and Afvrill Thompson.

Sincere appreciation is extended to the attorneys who responded and to those who were able to accept a case or two (or three). These attorneys make our community stronger by supporting and assisting those in need.

There are many ways to be involved in pro bono legal services.

Some attorneys assist with outreach events such as Project R, Lawyers in Libraries, Ask-A-Lawyer, intake at the City Rescue Mission, and the many group information clinics.

Some attorneys represent an individual with a single legal matter. Some attorneys do both: outreach projects and case representation.

Attorneys can review cases in need of placement by going to the website jaxlegalaid.org and clicking on the link to the left “Cases in Need of Placement with Pro Bono Attorneys.”

The cases are identified by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership and Three Rivers Legal Services. Support for pro bono attorneys includes professional liability coverage, educational webinars, expert resource attorneys and access to Westlaw.

For information on pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit are encouraged to contact Para at [email protected].

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