Increasing Access To Justice For Immigrants

VOLUME 5 ISSUE 2September 2007
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Increasing Access To Justice For Immigrants

Against a backdrop of increased immigration raids and stepped-up local enforcement, a new initiative aims to create an integrated national legal support network to increase access to justice for disadvantaged immigrants.  The Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) was developed by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), Pro Bono Net, and other leading immigration legal advocacy and support partners.  IAN was recently awarded a grant from the Carnegie Corporation that will enable it to expand past the pilot phase and launch the first online, non-profit immigration legal support network.

"IAN represents an unprecedented collaboration between the nation's leading immigrant support agencies.  It will not only greatly increase the knowledge and efficiency of charitable legal programs for immigrants throughout the country, but it may well lead to the creation of additional charitable legal programs and more effective advocacy by the immigrant rights community.  At a time when this community is trying to build its capacity after the collapse of comprehensive immigration reform legislation, this project could not be more timely or important," said Don Kerwin, Executive Director of CLINIC.

Debbie Smith, an immigration attorney with a more than 20 years of experience in non-profit, private and public sector practice, was recently named Project Director for IAN (, and will begin serving in that role in October.  Most recently a staff attorney at the Ninth Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Smith was the coordinator for the American Baptist Churches (“ABC”) national class action settlement.  “I am thrilled to lead this innovative, cooperative effort that will enhance the work of advocates nationwide by collecting and disseminating the expertise of the country’s preeminent immigration organizations while serving as a networking forum for the non-profit community.  I am honored to be chosen to fulfill the inspired vision of IAN’s founders.”

The goals of IAN include enhancing resource and information sharing among service providers, improving communication across diverse groups working on legal issues affecting immigrants and increasing the capacity of nonprofit legal organizations that serve immigrant clients and advocate on their behalf.

"The effectiveness of individual programs - particularly those new to providing immigration legal services - depends on access to accurate information.  By creating a gateway for providers to quickly find the right information from the national experts, IAN promises to be a tremendous resource to programs in the field,” said Michele Garnett McKenzie, Refugee and Immigrant Program Director for Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights.

IAN will provide easily accessible, comprehensive online resources for legal service providers, pro bono attorneys and advocates on a number of immigration topics.  For example, the site will include a national training calendar and webinars on various immigration law, policy and program management topics. The IAN website will launch early in 2008.

IAN will also serve as a key communications hub to solicit examples of disturbing government agency trends and policies and important local case developments from the field.  The site will enable local immigration service providers, including those in remote and underserved areas, to share best practices and practice tips using a nationwide distribution mechanism.

IAN brings together the nation’s leading immigration policy, advocacy and legal support organizations, whose representatives have served as its steering committee for the past two years.  In addition to PBN and CLINIC, they include the American Bar Association, Commission on Immigration; American Civil Liberties Union, Immigrants’ Rights Project; Immigrant Legal Resource Center; Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service; Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights; National Immigration Law Center; National Immigration Project, National Lawyers Guild; and the National Network for Arab-American Communities.  

For more information, please contact Matthew Burnett at

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