January 10, 2007

Naturalization workshop this weekend in Carbondale - Grants support law school's services to region

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Three grants totaling more than $41,500 from the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation are helping the Southern Illinois University School of Law's clinical program continue providing services for underserved people in the region.

One of the grants expands immigration and naturalization projects —including a workshop for interested immigrants this weekend in Carbondale – and defrays costs associated with visits to immigration detainees at the Tri-County Detention Center in Ullin.

The legal clinic is receiving:

• $24,000 for its family mediation program;

• $16,350 to support the Self Help Legal Center; and

• $1,200 for expanded immigration and naturalization projects.

Only a small percentage of poor people nationwide who need legal services receive access to that assistance, "so we need more programs to help meet these needs than just what federally funded legal services programs can offer," said Mary C. Rudasill, associate professor and legal clinic director.

"We wouldn't be able to do these projects without the support," Rudasill said.

The funding runs from Jan. 1 through Aug. 31, said Leslie Corbett, executive director of the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation. The foundation is giving out more than $3.3 million in grants to provide civil legal services across the state. Funds come from an appropriation through the Illinois Attorney General's Office.

The law school's legal clinic has received funding for its mediation and Self Help Legal Center programs since the creation of the foundation in 2000. The funding is a "good investment," Corbett said.

The clinic's family mediation program provides pro bono services to eligible parties in the First Judicial Circuit's court-referred Family Mediation Program. Law school students serve as pro bono family mediation coordinators – conducting intake interviews, coordinating the pro bono volunteer mediators, and arranging mediation appointments. A new Illinois Supreme Court rule, in effect since Jan. 1, most likely will increase the clinic's need for volunteer mediators and may require continuing professional training for them.

The clinic's Self-Help Legal Center at http://www.law.siu.edu/selfhelp/

provides online and written packets of legal information to assist pro-se litigants in a variety of issues, including divorce, property, child custody, small claims cases, mediation, certain financial matters, and immigration issues. Some of these materials are also being translated into Spanish. The Self Help Legal Center does not offer legal advice, but it does offer legal information to those who will not be represented by counsel in a legal matter. Information on the site explains different types of legal actions in layman's terms.

Funding for naturalization and immigration-related services will allow the law school to expand programs for the immigrant community in the region, said assistant professor Cindy Buys, who teaches immigration law.

The naturalization workshop is from 3 to 4:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 14, in the Bowen Gym Multi-Cultural Center at the former Carbondale Community High School on Oakland Avenue. The workshop is free and open to the public. For more information about the workshop, contact Buys at the SIU School of Law at 618/453-7711 or 800/739-9187.

Eight third-year law school students who have taken the immigration law class, along with translators, are volunteering their time, Buys said. Interested immigrants will receive information on the steps needed to become a U.S. citizen, eligibility requirements and costs. The workshop will be broken into small groups for individual discussions and assistance.

On average, it takes about six months to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, Buys said. Rudasill notes the next closest legal services available for immigrants in Southern Illinois are in Alton.

Through the two-year-old Immigration Detention Project, volunteer law school students, faculty and translators go to the Tri-County Detention Center in Ullin to interview detainees and see if their legal needs are being met, Buys said. Detainees receive basic information about the immigration system and laws so they can assess what they need to do.

On average, there are about 150 immigration detainees. The "Know Your Rights" packets are each about 30 pages long, in six languages, and the cost of copying the packets is the biggest expense. A portion of the grant funds will offset those costs, she said.

The group plans to make its next visit in early February, Buys said.

Rudasill and Buys noted that there are numerous benefits for students who participate the various programs. Students receive experience in areas of the law they otherwise may not get, Rudasill said.

Students receive first-hand experience dealing with real-life issues, and it gives them an avenue for practicing interviewing and problem-solving skills. In addition, attorneys have a responsibility to perform pro bono work, Buys said.

"I think it's very important for students to have an opportunity to do that while they are in law school," she said. "It sets a pattern for them for later in their careers if they already started doing some kind of pro bono work during law school."

For more information, contact the School of Law's legal clinic at 618/536-4423.