With deportations on the rise under the new presidential administration, the Brooklyn legal community is coming together to help out.
The Volunteer Lawyers Project and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams are planning an “Embrace Your Hyphen Citizenship Drive” for Saturday, during which they are expected to help more than 150 immigrants, all legal permanent residents already, to fill out their citizenship application forms.
In preparation for that event, more than 100 attorneys gathered Borough Hall on Wednesday night for a continuing legal education (CLE) seminar designed to teach young attorneys how to help them fill out the N-400 application form.
“Navigating government is hard, and if English is your second language, it is unbelievable how difficult it is,” Adams said. “Attorneys are used to walking into government buildings, accessing the court and interacting with police, but to the average person it is so intimidating. What they are doing here is not just helping people navigate the immigration process, but showing people that despite their status and language that they are deserving of dignity and respect.”
A similar event was held at Borough Hall last year, where volunteer attorneys helped more than 30 applicants fill out their N-400 forms. This year, however, organizers expect at least 150 people to attend on Saturday.
“There is plenty of work to go around so we’ve tried to organize as many volunteers as possible,” said Sarah Burrows, the pro bono manager at the VLP. “We’re also hoping that this can be a continuing project over the coming months and coming years.”
Most attorneys who attended were on the younger side, but Wednesday’s event also included roughly a dozen or so more experienced attorneys who don’t practice immigration law, but wanted to help out. Law school students were also involved, but will have a smaller role to play during Saturday’s event.
“All kinds of issues revolve around this application — fraud, confusion, reluctance to actually apply for a citizenship due to lots of misinformation out there,” said Franklin S. Montero, an attorney who participated in the event a year ago and helped organize Wednesday’s drive. “For that reason, these citizenship drives are helpful and the more they’re done the bigger benefit to the community.”
Volunteer attorneys were shown the forms that they would be filling out on Saturday and Montero took them through the forms page by page and explained how they should be filled out.
The entire event is streamlined so that attorneys, even the most inexperienced ones, will be able to take applicants through the process. Organizers explained that there will be supervising attorneys on hand throughout the entire event and that there will be supervisors going over the applications afterward to check for errors.
“When applicants come in, they’ll be prescreened before they see our volunteers,” said Yamilky Crisostomo, Latino Outreach community coordinator for the borough president. “Volunteers will only be taking applicants who are eligible to apply for naturalization and have all of the documents needed to proceed. If walk-ins come on Saturday with more complicated cases, they will be referred to a someone who can better handle their case.”