In the July/August issue of San Diego Lawyer, California Western School of Law’s President and Dean Niels B. Schaumann poignantly outlines the massive backlog of immigration cases in U.S. courts—a “crisis,” the impact of which Schaumann suggests can surely be lessened by pro bono assistance from attorneys and legal aid programs.
One such program is California Western’s Community Law Project (CLP), which provides legal advice, consultations, and community education in 11 areas of law, and serves more than 1,000 individuals each year through one-on-one meetings and education presentations. CLP is on the front lines of immigration issues in San Diego, and thanks to a $25,000 grant from the Price Philanthropies Foundation, CLP is increasing its impact in the communities hit hardest by immigration concerns.
For clients and families in deportation proceedings, CLP facilitates referrals to immigration attorneys who have significant experience in deportation/removal defense. The Community Law Project also assesses and frequently refers to nonprofit organizations (like San Diego’s Casa Cornelia) for immigrant clients who may be able to obtain legal status and avoid immigration enforcement.
What Caused the Backlog?
Today, there are nearly 600,000 immigration cases in the U.S.—a number that is expected to grow, due to recent well-publicized changes to federal immigration policies. With only 320 federal immigration judges handling the half-million-plus cases, the average wait time for adjudicating a case is 677 days—nearly two years.
It’s not just the sheer number of cases, lack of judges, and the wait time; there is also a severe shortage of qualified lawyers to represent these clients—and that’s where clinics like CLP can have the greatest impact.
Under the supervision of licensed attorneys, law students and volunteer attorneys provide clients with a variety of necessary services in one location—and with five locations throughout San Diego, CLP is able to serve more low-income, vulnerable, and sometimes homeless individuals in the community, while providing hands-on training to California Western student interns. The project also provides assistance in navigating through complex social systems, and referrals to resources that help build self-sufficiency and economic opportunity.