By: Aura Altamiranda/Contributing Writer
Students at the College of Law are making the path to citizenship easier for immigrants by dropping the price tag on the naturalization process.
The students, with the supervision of practicing attorneys and faculty, led the College of Law’s Citizenship Drive and their mission was to facilitate the naturalization process at no cost to individuals in the community seeking aid.
Appointments were made prior to the day of the drive; a large turnout was anticipated. The one-day event operated from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and had more than 100 attendants whose intent was to fill out the necessary paperwork to begin their applications for U.S. citizenship.
While the professionals looked over the final paperwork, the work was executed by the students. They helped attendees review the application line by line, explained parts of the application that were difficult to understand, and filed fee waivers for those who could not afford to pay.
The event was organized by the Carlos A. Costa Immigration and Human Rights clinic, one of eight clinics who offer legal counseling to those who can’t afford help from firms.
The other seven clinics are the Community Development Clinic, the Consumer Bankruptcy Clinic, the Environmental Law Clinic, the Investor Advocacy Clinic, the Health, Ethics, Law, and Policy Clinic, the Family and Children Law Clinic and the Pedro Pan Immigrant Children’s Justice Clinic.
According to Nnamdi Jackson, third-year law student of the Investor Advocacy Clinic, many of their clients seek help from the clinic as their final option after having attempted firms. While they want professional advice, affordability is an issue as well.
The incentive for students working in the clinics is the application of their knowledge in professional environments, interacting with the clients they are working for, working on cases they’ve spent time learning how to handle in the classroom.
They see the cases through from beginning to end. What differentiates this from classroom learning is the tangible experience these students do not get from textbooks. The students handle the cases, choosing the best courses of action to with which to proceed. Students who have met a certain number of hours are sometimes allowed to speak on record in court. In addition, the students receive class credit depending on the time commitment necessary and how demanding the clinics are.
Maria Olis, third-year law student of the Carlos A. Costa Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, is both working for the clinic and being helped by it. As she has been undergoing her own process and being advised by Juan Gomez, a clinical professor, she has been developing her own skills and applying them to her work.
Because Olis participated in the Citizenship Drive in two ways, she does her work with those two perspectives in mind.
“I understood more where they were coming from and I was able to jump into their thought process,” Olis said.
Zamir Cruz, third-year law student working with family and children advocacy, said he and his peers have found that they are gaining the head start that other law students can’t.
“The clinic is a great experience for community service and we have opportunities that aren’t common in law schools.”
The clinics operate on an academic schedule; they are currently wrapping up the fall semester in order for the students to prepare for their final exams. During this time, the cases are put on hold.
The clinics will resume in the spring and pick up the cases once again, conducting regular operations. For clients, this is the trade-off that has to be made having access to this free service.
“It’s a nice alternative to classroom experience, or a good supplement,” said Phillip Colesanti, third-year law student working with family and children advocacy.