Two funny things happened to me right after I passed the bar exam and was officially licensed to practice: everyone suddenly needed a contract written or negotiated, and everyone either had, or knew someone who had, an immigration problem. I could help with the former; with the latter, I was a bit out of my league.
Immigration law is often cited as second only to tax law as the most complicated and difficult areas of law to navigate. This is with good reason: the laws controlling who can, and cannot be, present in our country is politically and racially motivated, often contradictory, and highly complex, even to those perfectly fluent in English. Adding to the density is that the xenophobic immigration laws passed after 9/11 created additional, burdensome barriers to entry and harsh detention policies for those whose status were unconfirmed. Whether you need to figure out how to obtain citizenship in this country, how to bring your non-U.S. spouse nationalized over here (please, for the love of God, unless you absolutely must enter into a lavender marriage, no more questions on how to enter into sham union with some guy you barely know, just so you can stay in their country), or how to sponsor a family member’s journey, it will be an uphill battle. Following the jump is a list of legal organizations that will provide free or low-cost help with the process. As always, check with the organization to make sure you qualify for their assistance.
- Central American Refugee Center: CARECEN provides assistance to individuals seeking citizenship, work permits, family visas, and adjustments to their immigration status. On Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings, CARECEN presents informational legal sessions for the public. Call them at (213) 385-7800.
- Los Angeles County Bar Association: Immigration Legal Assistance Project. LACBA provides assistance to individuals filling out those pesky immigration forms. For a nominal fee (about $20), you can obtain a legal consultation for more complicated problems. Call (213) 485-1872 for more information. (Spanish-speaking)
- El Rescate Legal Services. El Rescate provides a significant range of services, from representing those seeking asylum to those seeking immigration under the Violence Against Women Act. Every Wednesday at 2, the organization hosts charlas, providing information on pertinent immigration laws and providing individualized consultations afterwards. Call El Rescate at (213) 387-3284. (Spanish-speaking)
- Asian Pacific American Legal Center. APALC reliably provides immigration help for issues related to employment authorizations, asylum seekers, citizenship problems, and green cards. In addition, the organization provides specific help for immigrant survivors of domestic violence. Call their legal intake line to find out how you can obtain their help: (213) 977-7500. (Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Filipino, and Spanish-speaking)
- Catholic Charities of Los Angeles Immigration Services. Catholic Charities provides an array of immigration and refugee services, including general immigration services, employment assistance, and training programs. In addition, the organization’s Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project provides representation to select individuals undergoing removal proceedings. A friend of mine works here – they’re good people. Call (213) 251-3411 for more information. (Arabic, Armenian, Cambodian (Khmer), Chinese (Chiu-Chow, Cantonese, Mandarin), Farsi, French, Greek, Korean, Russian, Turkish, and Vietnamese-speaking)
- HIV & AIDS Legal Services Alliance. For low-income LA County residents diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, HALSA provides legal services for individuals with immigration issues, including general form completion assistance, asylum representation, and HIV waivers. If you qualify, call them at (213) 637-1690 for more information. For those who do not qualify for assistance at HALSA, try calling HALSA’s founder, the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, at (323) 993-7670 to see if they can help you.
- Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. JFSLA offers form completion assistance, citizenship, and immigration and resettlement services, as well as specific assistance targeted to the Iranian and Russian communities. Contact them at (323) 761-8800. (Farsi, Hebrew, Russian, and Yiddish-speaking)
- Homies Unidos. Homies Unidos is a unique organization focusing on providing assistance on detention and deportation, particularly as these topics relate to individuals with criminal records. Every second Saturday, the organization presents a legal clinic; walk-ins are welcome, though appointments are suggested. Call their attorney at 213) 383-7484 to make an appointment.