Wednesday, July 25, 2007

End of July

I was just noticing that it has been over a month since my last post. The Internet explorer in the office doesn't like the blog website, so it has been easy to forget to update it.

This month has been extremely busy. The Citizenship and Immigration Service is increasing fees for all immigration applications at the end of the month. As of July 30, many of the fees for applications will double. Naturally, this causes a bit of a problem for our clients, many of whom are considerably below the federal poverty levels. So, we have been trying to file a number of applications by the end of the month so our clients won't have to pay more. I have been busy trying to get naturalization applications together for clients who would not qualify for a fee waiver. (Fee waivers are avialable for a number of petitions, the requirements are different for a naturalization application than for other applications).

A lot of the cases that I started the summer with have been filed and I have taken on new cases. I am learning that so much of immigration work is a waiting game. We have cases that have been open for a year or two that are waiting for responses from CIS. By the end of this week, I should be able to file one of my oldest client's petitions. He came to me at the beginning of the summer with quite a sad story. He wants to bring his children over, and helping him file the petitions has been a slow process due to a rather significant language barrier, and trying to find someone to translate documents for us. But, the final piece will be ready at the end of this week, and I will be very glad to file the petitions with immigration. Unfortunately, his children will not be able to come to the US right away, and in fact it could be a four or five year wait (if not more) before they will be able to come. The look on my client's face when I first told him how long it would be before his kids came was heartbreaking.

I have another client who is breaking my heart too. She was married to an abusive man who keeps harassing her constantly. The man is horrible and has found ways to get information about my client, and has enlisted the help of others to continue to harrass her. He has attempted to destroy my client's business, and accuses her of marrying him for papers (which is untrue). The worst part is that they have a child in common, which means that they will probably be dealing with each other for the rest of their lives! Thankfully she is strong, smart, and very independent. But to hear what he does to make her life miserable makes me lose faith in the general goodness of other human beings.

But, there is nothing more fulfilling than a client thanking you for the work you have done. They are just so happy to be working with you to help solve their problems. It makes the heartache worth it.

One more month of my fellowship, then school starts. I plan on staying at ILCM as a work-study law clerk, so I can finish my cases. I admit that I have grown attached to my clients over the summer and want to see what happens. I am also going to try to apply for fellowships so that I can work at ILCM after I graduate without having to rely on funding here. So, even after the fellowship is over I might not be completely done with ILCM. At least, I hope I won't be. :)

Friday, June 22, 2007

It's Been A While

I've been neglecting this blog for a little while, mostly due to the fact that I don't have internet in my apartment at the moment. However, June has been a pretty busy month for me. I have taken on some new cases, and have been dealing with some old ones. I am helping two clients become citizens, which is a really exciting process. There is a long form to fill out, and lots of information to cover, along with a lot of yes or no questions that seem sort of odd (ever been a part of Nazi Germany? weren't born yet) but are important.

I got some new clients through our intake process at the beginning of the month. One is a refugee that I will be helping. Another I cannot get a hold of (which happens fairly regularly, apparently). Lastly, I got to help some people file for a renewal of their TPS. TPS means Temporary Protected Status, and it was recently renewed for Honduras, and Nicaragua. That a country has TPS means that the nationals of that country can stay in the US because of turmoil or other problems in their home country.

Now that I have been doing this work regularly for almost 2 months, I can honestly say that I really love what I do. It is always interesting to work with immigrants, because many of them have such interesting (and heartbreaking) stories. It also provides a set of challenges that you probably won't get anywhere else (like working with interpreters). I look forward to working here for the rest of the summer, and hopefully I will be able to keep up with at least a few of my clients after the school year starts.

In addition to working with clients, I got to organize a table for ILCM at the World Refugee Day. We get to sit at a table, answer questions, and talk to people as they walk by. It was an interesting mix, there were people from other organizations as well as refugees. I talked to a woman who runs a charter school for immigrants who is interested in going to law school. I told her some of my horror stories, but made sure to emphasize that it is definitely a worthwhile experience. :)

I also got to spend a few days in immigration court. I got to see detention court hearings. This is when Immigration brings people in and they get held at the Bloomington office. Many of them get deported back to their country. It is exactly like a jail calendar in a public defender's office, but all the issues relate to immigration. I also got to see a set of non-detained court hearings. The interesting thing about that is they call in a number of people at the same time. So about 20 people are sitting in the courtroom, and they get to observe the proceedings. So, I got to see our ILCM attorney's case as well as a number of other brief hearings. Lastly, I got to see part of a hearing for a client of ours who is seeking a waiver to prevent his removal. This involved direct and cross examination, which was interesting to see. I found it amusing that in our Advocacy class, everything has to be perfect and we get told exactly what we did wrong. Yet, while what we learned matters in the real world, there is no need to be perfect in front of a judge. If the judge is making a decision and they are confused about something, they'll ask.

Friday, May 25, 2007


This week has been very busy. I have two new clients, that I met with on Tuesday. One is filing a petition for his step-daughter to come here, the other is filing for herself based on the Violence Against Women Act. VAWA lets abused spouses and children of US Citizens and legal permanent residents file immigration petitions for themselves. This means that the victim does not have to rely on the abuser to file petitions with immigration. VAWA petitions are close to my heart. I worked on two last semester while I interned here and they are emotional cases but at the same time can be very rewarding. I like helping victims of domestic violence get part of their life back.

I also met with my other client, that I talked about in the last post. I told him about how long it could take for his children to come over to the US, and I thought my heart would break when I saw the look on his face!! It's so disheartening to want to help people and have the delay be so long!

Lastly, I get to help organize and plan for an ILCM table at the World Refugee Day, which should be interesting. Sitting at information booths can be a lot of fun...though usually it is more interesting if there are a lot of people there to ask questions.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

My first full week

So I jumped into my first full week at ILCM yesterday. More like dove into it. Yesterday was pretty mellow, I did some follow-up stuff from my cases that I had over the semester, had a pot-luck lunch with the people here, which happened to fall on my first day (I never say no to free food). Because I was still waiting to hear back from some potential clients I didn't have much to do. I also helped Cindy with some clients she had down in Worthington when she was there last week. I did send out letters a few weeks ago to potential clients and one of them followed up rather quickly. He speaks Amharic, he is from Ethiopia and does not speak much English. But, that didn't stop him from leaving a message on Cindy's voicemail for me (in Amharic except for the beginning where he said, "I need an Amharic translator" in rather clear English). Just as Cindy was telling me about the message, our receptionist came in and told me that the Amharic-speaking client was waiting to see me. I get the impression that he wants to start working on his case as soon as possible. Since we don't have an Amharic translator on hand, I had to frantically figure out what to do. But, the problem did get solved, our volunteer translator was able to come in later in the morning and he helped translate beautifully.

So, I spent most of the morning figuring out how to do an I-130, which is an immigration petition for family members of US citizens or Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs). He wants to file them for his children who are currently living in Kenya. It is a very sad story, and I can't help but feel bad for him and his kids. They seem to have been through a lot. This is going to be a very tough case because of various issues with prior petitions and some other related issues. But, as Cindy said, might as well get the hard ones out of the way because after this case, I-130s should be a breeze. Great. Fortunately, everyone who works here is helpful, so I can ask all the questions I want. And, I do like tackling the hard stuff first. More to follow!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Pre-summer work

Hey all! This blog is to document the work I will be doing this summer at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota in St. Paul, MN through the Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellowship. I am currently an intern at ILCM, which makes it convenient to start working. Even though it is finals period, I have a bit of a break so I went into work yesterday to finish up some stuff. I had two cases this semester that I filed with Immigration on behalf of clients. This semester my work was with victims of domestic violence, which I liked a lot. I found out that both of my clients have prima facie eligibility, which basically means that Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) took a quick look at the materials we sent and said that everything appeared to be in place. This was very exciting news for me, since this was the first time I have ever filed anything! I also sent out letters to people I will hopefully be working with this summer on their immigration issues. Hopefully, I will hear back from them once I start work for real on May 14.