Pro Bono: Citizenship Day 2018: A day for hope and celebration

The event enabled about 100 lawful permanent residents to complete the naturalization application process.

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Attorney Ian Weldon assists a family with their naturalization applications.
Attorney Ian Weldon assists a family with their naturalization applications.
  • The Bar Bulletin
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By Kathy Para, The JBA Pro Bono Committee chair

The 11th annual Citizenship Day event was April 7 at Florida Coastal School of Law. Attorneys and law students volunteered their time and knowledge to guide about 100 legal permanent residents seeking U.S. citizenship status.

Volunteers counseled applicants on properly completing documents and what to expect during the naturalization process. The atmosphere was full of hope as the applicants looked ahead to stability and productivity in the U.S.

Countries represented included Spain, Brazil, Burma, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, Venezuela, Liberia and Burundi.

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, Florida Coastal School of Law, Florida Coastal School of Law Foundation, Florida Coastal Clinical Department, Florida Coastal Pro Bono, Florida Coastal Student Bar Association, the Volunteer Immigrant Student Alliance, the Jacksonville Bar Association and Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.

Volunteer attorneys viewed a naturalization CLE webinar to learn how to prepare the application and how to to spot possible pitfalls. They provided free assistance to legal permanent resident applicants who were pre-screened for eligibility.

Florida Coastal supports this event as one of its annual signature events.  The project is coordinated by Florida Coastal’s Naturalization and Citizenship Clinic and the Immigrants and Human Rights Clinic under the direction of professors Ericka Curran and Kara Roberts.    

“It’s our goal to make Citizenship Day better every year. Many hours of outreach in the immigrant community, applicant screening, event coordination and collaboration with various school departments and community partners are invested by the students prior to Citizenship Day,” said Roberts. “With the current political climate many immigrants are hesitant to ask for help of any kind, but this year we saw record numbers of immigrants seeking assistance.”  

Participation in Citizenship Day is one of the Jacksonville Bar Association’s Law Week observances and this year the support of the event could not be more fitting. The theme for Law Day 2018 as defined by the American Bar Association was “Separation of Powers: Framework for Freedom,” referring to the U.S. system of government with clearly defined executive, judicial and legislative branches.

“Many of the applicants served on Citizenship Day come from countries that are not founded on commitments to liberty and justice for all and equal rights for every person. Their governments do not operate with a system of checks and balances and it’s many times the autocratic nature of the structures that lead to abuses of power, oppression and human rights violations. These people remind us of how important our legal protections are in the U.S. and how critical it is for each of us to appreciate and protect those rights and the integrity of our system of government,” said Law Week Committee Chair Cyndy Trimmer.

While student volunteers helped the participants fill out naturalization applications, the attorneys counseled applicants and conducted a final review of the documents to ensure that all applicants were eligible to apply for citizenship.

The event enabled about 100 lawful permanent residents to complete the naturalization application process. Those who did not meet the eligibility requirements were referred to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid for further representation or to other community agencies for assistance.

Citizenship Day has provided hundreds of immigrants with the life-changing opportunity to become citizens of the United States.

Sincere thanks are extended to the attorneys who served at this year’s event: Michelle Atack, Beverly Clarke, Melissa Coll, Luke Cornelius, Ray Cornelius, McCarthy Crenshaw Jr., Bruce Duggar, P.J. Justiniano, Marci Logu, Jesse McIntyre and Marianna Munoz.

Attorneys Gabrielle Narvaez, Vanessa Newtson, Ingrid Osborn, Andrea Reyes, Jamin Rubenstein, Lisa Ruiz, Juan Somoza, Cyndy Trimmer, Andrew Underkofler, Ian Weldon and Karen Winston also assisted.

Law school graduates Lanzce Francis, John Holzbauer, Stephanie Lisiecki and Suzanne Love and paralegals Claudia Alcaraz and Lisa Grosskruger-Edler participated as well.

In addition, more than 70 law students assisted in the prescreening workshops and on Citizenship Day as application processors and greeters.

For information about the many pro bono opportunities in the 4th Judicial Circuit or to be added to the list of attorneys interested in Citizenship Day 2019, contact [email protected]g.



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