International Institute of the Bay Area (IIBA) Recruits Law Student Volunteers to Assist in Legal Services in San Francisco, CA
In 2018, IIBA will celebrate 100 years as a provider of immigration legal services, education, and civic engagement in Northern California. When the institute began in 1918, immigrants and their children made up 72 percent of San Francisco’s population. Today, IIBA continues to support the immigrant population in preparing for naturalization with over 2,500 citizenship applications each year.
IIBA continues to expand the reach of its services through creative partnerships, such as the effort to match local law student volunteers with immigrants in need of legal assistance. Each year, approximately 10 law students interested in immigration law volunteer for the program, some of which pursue careers in the field of immigration law after graduation. Most of the volunteers are in their first year of law school, and a couple students even choose to return their second year to serve as mentors for the next group of volunteers. IIBA’s staff attorney trains the students using interview models and other USCIS resources on the naturalization process and how to best assist the clients in completing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. The students then participate in an additional orientation with the Citizenship/ESL Coordinator and when available, students are invited to participate in local info sessions held by USCIS community relations officers.
The law student volunteers then take on the role of an immigration officer in the scenario of a permanent resident entering their naturalization interview. This begins with the volunteer sitting with the citizenship student to confirm items found in their Form N-400. Then, the volunteer asks the student to answer 10 questions from the 100 civics questions that will be on the naturalization test. The students are also asked to read one sentence and write one in English as they would be during the actual test. When they finish, the volunteer provides feedback and suggests how the student may improve as they continue studying. One recent volunteer stated, “Volunteering with IIBA’s citizenship program is the only real thing I do all week,” reflecting on the true impact of this program on the volunteers as they gain a deeper understanding of the need for citizenship services.
This interaction not only allows the students to rehearse what will take place during the naturalization interview, but gives the volunteers an opportunity to learn about naturalization law and improve their interview skills while working one-on-one with clients. IIBA recognizes that students may be nervous to work with the volunteers, but has found that once they explain the importance of engaging in practice interviews and hear positive experiences from their peers, they are active participants. The success of the program is found in this give and take between the students and volunteers as they share in learning about the naturalization process.
IIBA continues to demonstrate the benefits of close collaboration within their community, such as the partnership with Stanford that made this exchange possible. IIBA also partners with the Stanford University undergraduate Spanish language program by offering service learning opportunities to their Spanish language students. These students are given the opportunity to volunteer with IIBA’s language exempt citizenship students as they prepare for their naturalization interviews in Spanish.
Throughout 2017, IIBA continued to expand its reach, opening its seventh office in Sonoma and partnering with the San Francisco Public Defender’s office to provide support to detained immigrants on the path to deportation. The Law Student Volunteer program not only highlights IIBA’s connection with the community, but helps to build mutual understanding among immigrants and young people.