What legal aid is available for immigration cases?
UPDATED: February 20, 2013
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You have an immigration issue and you’ve done enough reading to know that you are thoroughly confused about what you should do next. Unfortunately, with the economy still struggling, you don’t quite have the funds to hire a private attorney to handle your matter. Fortunately, a number of public interest organizations offer immigration legal aid to immigrants facing a variety of legal issues. These legal aid organizations offer expertise in immigration law and are often free to those who qualify. The trick is usually finding an organization in your area. Rural areas tend to have fewer legal aid options immediately available; however, you will probably have access to more than you think.
Immigration Legal Aid Organizations
First, start by looking for immigration legal aid organizations. You may be a little frustrated at first because many legal aid organizations are designed to assist with family law related issues. Don’t give up. Even if that organization does not directly deal with immigration cases, they will probably have information about a local organization that does. Because of increases in processing immigration issues, the federal government has instituted a program through the BIA for Pro Bono Programs to improve representation for people who cannot afford legal representation. Many states and religious organizations have used grant money from this project to implement pro bono programs. Pro Bono programs provide free or reduced-fee legal services to those who could not otherwise afford representation.
A second source of legal aid is referrals from national organizations. Several groups have formed national initiatives to improve the rights of immigrants. Some of these groups include:
- National Network for Immigrant Refugee Rights
- Catholic Legal Immigrant Network, Inc.
- National Immigrant Justice Center
Most national groups will be able to refer you to local branches located in your area for support on immigration issues.
A third source of information for legal aid comes from your local courthouse, county library or state bar office or website. Most court houses and county libraries will include announcements regarding legal services and legal aid in the form of pro bono clinics. Some will also maintain lists of local attorneys who are willing to provide legal aid on immigration issues for free or at reduced rates. Many state and state bar websites will include similar referrals.
Even if you do not qualify for services directly with the organization that you find, you can still utilize their expertise. Most will offer free publications that will clarify some of the issues that you are struggling with. From there, you may be able to narrow the amount of actual representation that you need.
Non-Legal Aid Sources
Organizations that provide direct support for immigration services are what most people think of when they consider legal aid. However, depending on your issue and your situation, you may qualify for other assistance. Your jurisdiction may have a public defender’s office that can assist with at least some of your issues. If you are facing deportation, some courts will appoint an attorney for the limited purpose of visiting with you before you make your announcement to the court. This is an opportunity for at least a cursory assessment of your situation. Finally, the USCIS does provide for a waiver of filing fees in limited circumstances for some applications. You should discuss this option with any attorneys that you potentially hire. Fee waiver could result in a reduction of expenses so that you could then afford to pay your attorney.
Regardless of where you live, the most important thing to keep in mind is that help is out there. Exploring national, state, and local options for legal aid will increase your chances for obtaining the support and assistance that you need.