Pro Bono Programs
Columbia students are collaborating with law school students from around the country to assist the Asylum Seekers Advocacy Project (ASAP) in creating two guides focused on asylum claims: (1) A guide focused on expedited removal proceedings; and (2) A start-to-finish tool-kit/guide on assisting pro se applicants with asylum applications. ASAP uses creative lawyering, an innovative model of remote representation, and large-scale volunteer mobilization to take on and win cases for refugee mothers and their families across the country.
The organization focuses on taking on cases not well suited for traditional legal services - representing women whom the government has already wrongfully denied asylum or ordered deported, as well as families who are unable to access pro bono legal aid in their area. Columbia law school students will be working remotely with both ASAP staff and other law school students to ensure that guides are available for other lawyers seeking to assist some of the most vulnerable communities.
A prominent non-profit in the fields of global development and immigrants and refugees rights, CWS was founded in 1946 and now has offices all over the world. Its headquarters are right next to campus, on 475 Riverside Drive. CWS provides low-fee and pro bono programs that are not restricted to any particular religious group.
Columbia Law students may apply to assist CWS’s senior staff attorney in in its immigration and refugee program. Students may decide to assist CWS in a great many ways, including research, outreach, clinics, advocacy, client assistance, clerical, data compilation.
The program may recruit two to three students at a time for semester long commitments of 5 to 10 hours per week.
LaLSA and SIRR are co-sponsoring pro bono opportunities in conjunction with the City Bar Justice Center to create materials for and conduct Know Your Rights (KYR) workshops. These KYR workshops are targeted towards public schools and small business owners. Students will be expected to do research and create materials for these presentations and will also have the opportunity to conduct the workshops with the supervision of the City Bar Justice Center. This opportunity qualifies for both New York and Columbia pro bono requirements.
Immigration Equality is non-profit organization specialized in advocating and representing LGBTQ and HIV-positive immigrants seeking safety, fair treatment, and freedom. Based in New York, it is the only national organization that both advocates for and directly represents LGBT and HIV-positive people in the immigration system. It the last few years, it accomplished a whopping 98+% success rate in its cases.
SIRR has had a terrific experience working with Immigration Equality in the past. Students work in direct contact with 11’ CLS alumn Yleana Roman, staff attorney at Immigration Equality. Volunteers will have the opportunity to assist Immigration Equality in two ways. First, students with foreign language skills will be able to offer translation services. Second, students will be able to prepare and update country conditions reports for various countries, including Mexico, Guatemala, Ukraine, Belarus, Bahamas, Croatia, Georgia, Guatemala, and Zimbabwe.
This is a terrific opportunity to learn about immigration law and its practice. The work qualifies for CLS pro bono hours. SIRR is committed to send the strongest workforce to IE. Students will be preparing country condition indices that IE uses in support of their cases. These indices are also distributed to other immigration advocates to promote the refugees’ rights.
For more information, please contact César Rivière (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) is a nationwide organization of law students and legal practitioners who provide assistance to refugees throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region who are navigating the resettlement process, and advocate on their behalf for improvements in the national and international refugee processing systems.
Organizationally, IRAP is structured as “chapters” at law schools around the country (the number of chapters continues to increase every year). Traditionally, IRAP chapters perform clientwork and policy work.
The Columbia Chapter
CLS students have the opportunity to get involved with several IRAP opportunities.
Most importantly, we oversee two pro bono projects: (1) casework, and (2) intakes. The CLS chapter currently has about fifteen open cases and over sixty active student and attorney volunteers. Our client-base is primarily Iraqi and Afghani individuals who worked for the U.S. military or are facing persecution for other reasons (sexual orientation, religion, etc.) and their immediate families. Our chapter has clients located in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Turkey, and Jordan, and helps settle clients through a variety of resettlement processes, including U.S. and UNHCR processes. CLS students have also conducted several intakes for IRAP National through the intake program that began in 2016.
CLS students can also participate in an IRAP caravan to Jordan or Lebanon over spring break. The caravan involves learning more about the refugee resettlement process and conducting client intakes with vulnerable refugees referred to IRAP by partner NGOs.
Finally, the CLS chapter undertakes various policy projects throughout the year, depending on current events and needs.
Please continue reading to learn more about these opportunities.
Our Pro Bono Projects
We have an “established placement” with SJI, meaning that the process is streamlined for students to submit their pro bono hours to SJI and have them approved by IRAP National.
Through our pro bono projects, students can (1) become caseworkers and work in-depth with a client on his/her resettlement case, and (2) participate in IRAP’s intake process and help IRAP National with the client intake process.
Casework involves working in teams of 3 CLS students and at least one supervising attorney from a New York firm. IRAP caseworkers help their client through the resettlement process, from beginning to end. While the work varies based on each client's situation, it typically includes performing interviews via telephone or video conference, assisting clients in preparing paperwork, affidavits and supporting evidence for their resettlement applications, preparing administrative or judicial appeals, performing legal and factual research, and assisting clients in preparing for interviews before UN or US immigration officials.
What is the time commitment? Working with IRAP is a great learning experience that can be very fulfilling and rewarding, but it is also a serious commitment that requires time and energy. Casework generally involves a multi-year commitment, and teams are assigned to their cases until they are closed. The time commitment varies based on individual clients' circumstances and where they are in the resettlement process. The process often takes a number of years, so IRAP volunteers must be committed to staying with their case for all three years of law school, if necessary. IRAP volunteers should also be aware that they will have little control of the timing of their client's application, so they may need to do some IRAP-related work during finals or other busy periods. However, the work required is largely long-term, and deadlines are rarely tight. As a result, the workload is very manageable.
Students who participate in intakes work with IRAP National to help conduct intake interviews and screen potential clients. This opportunity allows student volunteers to interact with several potential clients, gain insight into different types of legal issues, and work independently.
What is the time commitment? The time commitment varies based on the number of active intakes, but it averages to about 5 hours per week throughout the school year.
The CLS IRAP chapter typically accepts applications only in the fall.
What skills do I need to have? Previous knowledge of the refugee resettlement process is NOT required. While we would love to have volunteers who speak Arabic and/or have worked with refugees in the past, the only requirement that we have is that volunteers be communicative and committed to clients' well-being.
All volunteers whose applications are accepted must attend a training session at CLS or NYU in order to be staffed on a case. The dates for the annual trainings are released with the application each year.
For interested 1Ls, look for IRAP representatives at the block party in September! Otherwise, lookout for the email from SIRR announcing the application in September. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please feel free to email the IRAP Co-Chairs, Amanda Chuzi (email@example.com) and Sarah Maciel (firstname.lastname@example.org).
IRAP National has a training event for NYC area law schools. The CLS IRAP chapter also hosts training events for its participants. Training is mandatory for all participants.
IRAP has a National Conference each year in Washington, DC, or NYC where members from all of the chapters gather to share information about the work they have done, hear speakers from various government agencies, NGOs and international organizations, and meet with government officials regarding current refugee resettlement issues.
Policy work involves a variety of outreach-oriented tasks towards advocating for improvements in refugee policy at both the U.S. and international levels. Please contact the IRAP coordinators for more details if you are interested.
Spring Break Caravan
Each spring break, 5-7 CLS students travel to Amman, Jordan (or Beirut, Lebanon) where they provide direct legal assistance to Iraqi and Syrian refugees with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). Students learn how to interview victims of torture and trauma and conduct client intakes with vulnerable refugees referred to IRAP by partner NGOs, as well as meetings with existing Columbia clients. Students also participate in outreach meetings with local NGOs to learn more about the situation facing refugees on the ground in the Middle East.
For More Info...
For further information about IRAP generally, see the national organization’s website at: http://www.refugeerights.org/. Also, check out this segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QplQL5eAxlY
In the United States, children do not have a right to free counsel in deportation proceedings in immigration court. KIND works with pro bono attorneys from law firms throughout New York to represent undocumented children in deportation and other immigration matters.
Students who are interested in volunteering with KIND can sign up to receive research and other assignments from both solo practitioners and law firm attorneys, and from KIND’s office in Midtown. Most students will receive assignments as they are needed for different cases, rather than staying with the same case from beginning to end. This helps ensure that participating students will receive work that is meaningful and can coordinate the work with their availability. Assignments are made available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Additionally, there may be some opportunities for students who are fluent in Spanish to screen children for eligibility for relief at the immigration court’s “surge” docket; children who would otherwise be rushed through the system without safeguards or attorneys to protect their rights. The so-called surge docket refers to the Department of Justice’s 2014 program to expedite removal proceedings for Central American children and families.
The New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) is a nonprofit legal services organization providing free legal services to New Yorkers who cannot afford a private lawyer. NYLAG's robust Immigrant Protection Unit assists clients with a variety of immigration matters, including citizenship, legal residency, and removal defense.
Participate in Immigration Clinics
Students have the opportunity to participate in NYLAG's weekend immigration clinics, typically held on Saturday mornings. Law students will have the opportunity to conduct an initial screening of potential immigrant clients under the supervision of NYLAG staff.
If you are interested in participating in an immigration clinic, or just generally in other pro bono/ volunteer opportunities through NYLAG, please fill out the volunteer inquiry form at the following webpage.
Once you sign up, you will receive email blasts each month about all of NYLAG’s pro bono opportunities including clinics. The email blasts will include an online form for you to sign up for specific clinics. If you are chosen to be a volunteer at a specific clinic, you will receive a confirmation email from Jaida Samuels. Please be advised that because NYLAG only needs a certain number of volunteers for each clinic, they may not be able to confirm all of the students that sign up. Confirmation emails are usually sent one to two weeks before a clinic.
Those interested in NYLAG’s Immigration Clinics can watch a video of a NYLAG presentation from October 2016 here. In their email blasts, NYLAG also includes immigration relief webinar trainings that students can watch to prepare for the clinics.