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Advocacy Groups Train Lawyers Of All Kinds To Help With Immigration Cases


The need for immigration attorneys is huge. It's so great, in fact, that advocacy groups have started training lawyers of all stripes to help out.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: One of the most important things that your role is going to be is to make sure that the client feels as safe as possible with you. And this is a something that...

CORNISH: A recent training session in Washington D.C. attracted attorneys who normally handle divorces, landlord tenant issues and corporate matters. They were responding to a simple fact. Migrants have a much better chance of winning their immigration cases and staying in the U.S. if they have attorneys. Catholic Charities helped organize that training session. James Feroli is the group's pro bono coordinator.

JAMES FEROLI: The goal in training these lawyers is to have them represent clients.

CORNISH: But is that because there aren't enough immigration attorneys to go around?

FEROLI: There aren't enough immigration attorneys who are representing clients for free.

CORNISH: For free. OK.

FEROLI: And so our clients really can't afford to hire an attorney. And that's why they're coming to us, looking for either low-fee representation or free representation.

CORNISH: How different is immigration law from the work that these attorneys who are in this session may normally be doing?

FEROLI: Immigration law is its own unique expertise. It has its own unique statute, the Immigration and Nationality Act. It has its own very specific area of expertise, not unlike criminal law, real estate law or tax law. Maybe tax law may be the closest analogy.

CORNISH: And this is all before you get to the clients. So what are the challenges there for these attorneys moving into this world?

FEROLI: Well, in terms of just working with the clients, I think many of the things that we take for granted our clients don't necessarily have - everyday things such as day care, a car to get to appointments. And a lot of them have suffered from trauma. So there's issues of avoidance. They don't want to relive their experiences through a lot of interviews. And, of course, there's a language barrier, as well. So all of these things can present some challenges in representing these clients.

CORNISH: What are the kinds of questions you get?

FEROLI: From attorneys? Well, they want to know - I think the folks working for big law firms, they want to know how long it's going to take. If a case is going to take two to three years from start to finish, then it can be a challenge for them. If they're placing a case with an associate, they don't know if that associate's going to be here in one or two years. So that's really a big challenge for us - really is the scheduling as much as anything else.

CORNISH: It's interesting because there are more than 800,000 cases nationwide. The immigration courts have a tremendous backlog. They only have 400 immigration judges to hear them. So the odds of being tied up with a case actually are probably pretty high.

FEROLI: Yeah. I mean, right now, for example, in the Baltimore immigration court, I think they're scheduling cases three years out. So you're taking on a real commitment. You're taking on obligation. You have to live with that case and that client for, really, the next three years.

CORNISH: So what are the stakes? Just how much better are your odds if you go before an immigration judge with an attorney?

FEROLI: They're significantly better. There's been studies. And I think the number that I hear the most is that you're five times more likely to get relief if you have an attorney than if you don't have an attorney. So it really makes a real, considerable difference to have an attorney representing your case, speaking on your behalf.

CORNISH: James Feroli is the pro bono coordinator of Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services. Thank you for coming in to speak with us.

FEROLI: Thank you very much for having me.