By now you have heard about President Obama's executive action that will allow protection from deportation for the parents of U.S. citizen and permanent resident children, so that they may remain together as a family in our country. The program's cumbersome administrative title is “Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents,” which essentially allows these parents to remain with their children, provided those parents have lived in the United States continuously since January 1, 2010, and have passed required background checks (see page 18 for more details).
Immigration advocates predict that there are tens of thousands of these parents living in Washington. They are our neighbors, pursuing the dream of a better life in the U.S. for themselves and their children. Yet, their only option is to utilize what almost all observers admit is a broken U.S. immigration system. Now these parents are being offered an opportunity to not be separated from their children, provided they first navigate a complex legal system. Incorrectly completed applications, missing documentation or un-authorized legal representation by notarios and others not admitted to practice law could mean a loss of benefits - and deportation - for these parents.
We know that many of our colleagues in the bar would like to be of service during this once-in-a-generation moment (the last time the United States attempted to regularize immigration status for the undocumented was in 1986). That's why the King County Bar Association is exploring a partnership with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project to address this unprecedented need for legal assistance. We estimate that it will take mobilizing hundreds of volunteer attorneys and paralegals to meet the need for legal services for those unable to afford to pay for legal assistance.
Although the government's application procedure has not yet been announced, and we cannot predict an exact timeline for release of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' implementing guidelines, we need to move forward now and be ready to act, as early as this spring. The expectation is there will be almost no advance notice between the start of the program and release of the applications.
While the specific details of the new volunteer component of this effort are still being planned, it is likely that in partnership with NWIRP we will be organizing special “clinics” in Seattle, King County and even Eastern Washington. Some clinics might be on a weekday evening, others on a Saturday, and still others may involve a bus ride for a full day in Wenatchee or Yakima. They may occur at law firms, community centers or churches. There may be 50 people showing up for help or 500 at any one event. This means we need lots of volunteer lawyers (and paralegals and other support staff).
We'll need volunteers who, with some basic immigration training by NWIRP, will assist clients in assessing their eligibility, completing paperwork and referring more complex cases to other experts in immigration law. English-only speaking attorneys will be complemented with interpreters as needed. You might volunteer to work one time at an evening clinic or work several times over the course of many months. Again, no immigration experience is necessary; our partners at NWIRP would give you the training you need about this specific program.
Before KCBA can formally commit to this project, it's important to confirm volunteer interest. Please join us on Monday, March 30 for one of two informational meetings (noon or 5 p.m.). Both sessions will be in person at KCBA and streamed online. These special briefings will provide information about our new volunteer opportunity to keep immigrant families together. No commitment is needed until after the briefing, but we hope you'll be inspired to participate after attending. Why not bring a colleague or friend with you? If you are unable to attend on March 30, please visit www.kcba.org/probono to learn more and sign up to receive additional information as it becomes available. You can expect to hear more about this important effort in upcoming issues of the Bar Bulletin and on the KCBA homepage.
While our KCBA records from the late 1800s are not very detailed, we're imagining that our predecessor attorneys in the 19th and early 20th centuries were offering help to newcomers who came to our shores. It would be part of KCBA's long legacy for today's King County lawyers, as the bar's successors or descendants of those immigrants, to step up and assist families this time, too.
Colleen Kinerk is a partner in the law firm of Cable, Langenbach, Kinerk & Bauer, LLP and is chair of the KCBA Pro Bono Services Committee. Threesa Milligan is director of KCBA's Pro Bono Services.