You may know that there’s a lot that goes into a pro bono clinic. But planning the AILA Annual Conference Pro Bono Clinic takes it to another level. Here are some insights on the planning and logistics of this year’s event, sharing what we learned at the AC for anyone looking to run a pro bono clinic in the future – maybe even for Citizenship Day this September!
Planning began in earnest shortly after President Obama’s announcement regarding Executive Action. The number of clients potentially eligible for Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area far exceeded the resources of area nonprofits, so AILA’s DC Chapter decided to use it as a way to give back and support the nonprofits. Originally the plan was to work with Ayuda, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, and CARECEN to assist their overflow clients who were ready to apply for DAPA since the timing would be perfect. The clinic would take place several weeks after applications would start being accepted. What’s that they say about best laid plans? The next thing we knew, the Texas lawsuit injunction happened and DAPA was officially in limbo.
The Hosting Committee discussed options over several conference calls and ultimately decided that regardless of the injunction, there could still be a lot of benefits to a DAPA-focused clinic. Our mission was to (1) inform the community about the status of DAPA; (2) warn the community of the dangers of notario fraud; (3) ensure that community members were gathering documentation that will be necessary for any program—legislative or administrative; and (4) most importantly, identify whether a client might be eligible for another form of immigration relief and make the appropriate referrals.
First, the Committee worked with area nonprofits to identify the prospective clients they were unable to see. The Hosting Committee with the help of our community partners then reached out in advance to potential clients to bring the event to their attention and try to pre-register as many attendees as possible. Next, the Committee worked with local minority media outlets, and finally, outreach was done in the community through schools, such as Carlos Rosario, and community centers. The Pro Bono Clinic reached a total of more than 80 clients; each received a screening for DAPA, DACA and other common forms of relief. Clients with potential relief were referred to experts who provided a more thorough evaluation of their case and referrals were made to our partner nonprofits— Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, CARECEN, and Ayuda. The partnerships with the local nonprofits were critical to the success of the event for not only outreach, but also technical expertise.
The event was held at the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School, a location often used during AILA DC’s Citizenship Day, and the school has a strong relationship with both AILA DC and the community. Overall, Approximately 50 AILA members volunteered to provide screenings and expert advice, and we had 26 general volunteers, who served as runners, photocopiers and interpreters. AILA attorneys from all over the country participated, representing 15 chapters. It’s difficult to quantify the value of the services provided by the volunteers, because it is more than just a dollar amount, it is a way to provide much needed support to area nonprofits inundated with clients.
The Pro Bono Clinic, Citizenship Day, and other volunteer efforts are ways that our members walk the talk, and show their values, by helping those in need in the community. Without the help of AILA volunteers, many clients would not be able to navigate the complicated immigration system with any certainty.
The event was a success and we received great feedback from volunteers and clients alike. As with any large-scale event, the key to success is prior planning and leveraging of community partners and nonprofits. Even though Committee Members were not centrally located, they were able to effectively use technology to organize and implement the clinic. In my opinion, the event was true to its original mission, but the Committee was able to be flexible and responsive as unanticipated issues arose. A big thank you, not only to AILA and the volunteer attorneys, but our partner nonprofits who worked with us to ensure this event was a success!
Written by Adonia Simpson, Member of the AC Pro Bono Clinic Planning Committee