Lawyers and immigration professionals offered free legal assistance to approximately 20 South Bay residents during a clinic at the Gavilan College extension center in downtown Hollister on Wednesday.
The purpose of the free immigration clinic, sponsored by OneJustice and the United Farm Worker’s Foundation, was to answer legal questions about naturalization as well as the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and to help residents fill out applications for these programs. The event was part of a larger series of free legal clinics sponsored by OneJustice known as the Justice Bus Project.
The Justice Bus Project brings lawyers and law students from large urban areas by bus to rural communities for the day to offer free legal help to underserved California residents, said Renée Schomp, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow with OneJustice. Schomp heads the Justice Bus Project in northern California.
“Many private and corporate lawyers see this as good opportunity to really give back,” Schomp said.
On hand to support Schomp in Hollister on Wednesday was one legal aid attorney, one retired immigration judge and two Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) representatives from the UFW Foundation. The immigration and naturalization specialists supervised 16 volunteer corporate attorneys from Cooley LLP in San Francisco.
Each Justice Bus clinic offers free legal help with specific questions. In Hollister the volunteers answered questions related to naturalization and helped clients fill out Citizenship applications as well as applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Other Justice Bus events focus on expunging veterans' criminal records or estate planning for seniors.
The Hollister legal clinic is one of five events that the Justice Bus Project will sponsor this month, Schomp said. The Justice Bus will visit Modesto on July 8 to address questions about naturalization, Stockton on July 14 to address questions about DACA and naturalization, Greenfield on July to address questions about DACA and naturalization and Stockton on July 20 to address questions about criminal record expungements for veterans.
According to Schomp, the idea for the “innovative” Justice Bus Project came out of data analysis in 2007 that showed that 8-10 million Californians live in poverty and face one to three significant legal barriers each year – including threats to the guardianship of their children, eviction or deportation.
At the same time, according to Schomp, there are only 180,000 active attorneys in the state. Only 800 of these lawyers work full time in legal aid or legal issues associated with poverty and most of these professionals are located in large urban areas, Schomp continued.
According to Schomp, the Justice Bus Program seeks to address this justice gap by bringing volunteer private or corporate attorneys to rural areas for the day to serve underserved residents, under the direction of legal aid specialists.
The project partners with corporate law firms, large technology companies as well as law schools across the state to recruit volunteers for the bus trips and to raise funds to cover the cost of the trips.
For additional legal assistance in the local area, contact Karen W. Schulz with the Step Forward Foundation at 408-915-8698 or UFW Foundation in Salinas by calling 831-758-2611.
Click here to watch a video on the Justice Bus project.