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Jax Daily Record Monday, Apr. 27, 201512:00 PM EST

Pro bono spotlight: Citizenship Day 2015 builds on a strong foundation

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by: Kathy Para

The eighth annual Citizenship Day event was April 18 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 and/or in-kind support from the American Immigration Lawyers Association, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Acropolis Clothing, Florida Coastal and several of its student organizations, The Jacksonville Bar Association and Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.

In preparation for the event, the participating attorneys viewed a naturalization CLE webinar to gain knowledge on how to prepare the application and to be able to spot possible pitfalls.

They provided free legal assistance to permanent resident applicants who were pre-screened for eligibility.

The effort was coordinated by Florida Coastal professor Kara Roberts, a JALA immigration attorney who teaches a practitioners clinic focusing on outreach to Northeast Florida immigrant residents.

“We strive 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,” said Roberts. “Many hours of outreach in the immigrant community, applicant screening, and event coordination are invested by the students prior to Citizenship Day.”

She went on to say the students in her class recruit and coordinate volunteer contributions of student groups.

Support of Citizenship Day is one of The Jacksonville Bar Association’s Law Week observances and it fits perfectly with this year’s theme: “Magna Carta: Symbol of Freedom Under Law.”

In the eight centuries that have elapsed since Magna Carta was sealed in 1215, it has taken root as an international symbol of the rule of law. It also is an inspiration for many basic rights Americans hold dear today, including due process, habeas corpus, trial by jury and the right to travel.

Ingrid Suarez Osborn is a member of the Law Week Committee and served as an advising attorney on Citizenship Day.

“Some of the people served today came to the U.S. seeking the very protections established by the Magna Carta. It really is an international document, but not all nations have adopted its principles,” said Osborn. “The applicants we’re serving understand better than most of us how important those principles are in ensuring human rights and freedoms.”

While student volunteers helped the participants fill out the N-400 naturalization applications, the participating pro bono attorneys counseled applicants about any issues that may arise and whether additional legal assistance may be advisable.

Attorneys conducted a final review of the documents and ensured all applicants were eligible to apply for citizenship.

The event allowed 80 lawful permanent residents to complete the naturalization application process. Those who did not meet the eligibility requirements were referred to JALA for further pro bono representation or to other community agencies for assistance.

More than 100 immigrant residents received services making Citizenship Day 2015 another resounding success and another meaningful pro bono effort.

Sincere thanks are extended to the pro bono attorneys who served at this year’s event, assisting applicants or serving as expert resources for other pro bono attorneys.

They were: Osborn, Rebecca Black, Melina Buncome, Rebecca Caballero, Kristen Clement, Luke Cornelius, Yaima Coto, McCarthy Crenshaw, Joann Fakhre, Ardian Gjorka, Loren Hevesi, Vanessa Hill, Melvina Kemp, Yelena Kostyuk, Jeremy Lasnetski, Kelli Lueckert, Sylvia Manzanero, Jesse McIntyre, Vanessa Newtson, Leslie Ng, Andrea Reyes, Jenny Richardson, Daniel Ross, Brad Russell, Neda Sharifi and Cynthia Trimmer.

For information on pro bono opportunities throughout the 4th Judicial Circuit or to be added to the list of attorneys interested in Citizenship Day 2016, contact Kathy Para, Pro Bono Committee chairwoman at [email protected].

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