Low Cost Legal Solutions are Desperately Needed for Immigrants
This oped was originally published in La Opinion. Click here to read on La Opinion website. Written by M. Jude Egan, FLIC Founder & Managing Attorney, and Elizabeth Ramirez Barragan, Attorney & Associate Director
The steep rise in California’s cost of living has affected everyone, including immigrants. Family and Immigration Law is just one industry sector that has witnessed a sharp increase in the cost of its services. In my experience as an attorney, as much as 40% of the California immigrant community is unable to seek Family and Immigration Law assistance because of these astronomical costs. Most people--immigrants and non-immigrants alike-are astonished when they hear the financial breakdowns.
Immigration cases can cost anywhere from $5000 to as much as $20,000 (if it is a removal proceeding case).
An immigrant without legal status who marries a legal U.S. resident or a U.S. citizen, must pay $2,000 just for the form to apply for Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. That fee does not include attorneys’ fees; nor does it include the travel expenses incurred when appliers are required to return to their country of origin for interviews.
Costs can be just as excessive for legal U.S. residents who want to apply for citizenship. Applying for citizenship normally costs people over $1,000--and that is without attorneys’ fees. (And believe it or not that fee is being raised in October.) I came to the U.S. when I was 9 and was lucky because my family was able to “pitch in” to cover the cost of our paperwork. Others are not so lucky.
Some take bank loans or borrow money from relatives to pay. Some even use credit cards to pay for applications and attorneys’ fees. Worst of all, some risk being victimized by frauds who are non-attorneys because their fees are drastically reduced. Too often these immigrants receive wrong advice, and when their case encounters obstacles they are left without recourse.
Low cost legal services—the types offered by legal clinics—are the lifesavers of the legal community. Not only do they save immigrants money by offering flat-rate individual services, but they also allow for cheap consultation services where immigrants can learn whether they qualify for services that they may be unaware of, such as asylum or visas for victims of abuse.
Finally, it is important that the legal community do more to educate immigrants about their rights through workshops, videos, and community gatherings. Using the influence of the churches and community leaders is also invaluable, as is driving out to the agricultural fields and offering workers quick consultations.
Without outreach to the community and methods to lower legal costs, immigration problems will remain intractable.
Family Law And Immigration Clinic Opens In Santa Maria
Egan Law, a Santa Maria firm, recently announced it will open the Family Law and Immigration Clinic to help immigrants.
The clinic will assist community members who may not be able to afford full-service legal assistance, Jude Egan, the clinic’s executive director, said in a statement.
He said the clinic will offer “full-service legal assistance at a minimum cost without retainer fees … regardless of immigration status.”
According to the 2010 U.S. census, approximately 65% of family law parties in Santa Maria are representing themselves in family court and 62% of households subsist within 125% of the poverty level.
“The need for this center stemmed from the lack of lower-cost legal resources in the areas of family and immigration law,” Dr. Egan said in a statement. “Existing legal aid clinics are often limited by their mandates to only serve people under a certain income threshold or with defined immigration status and are, in any event, limited by available staffing resources.”
Egan Law Launches “Walk In” Family Law and Immigration Clinic (FLIC)
FLIC Executive Director Jude Egan: “FLIC will operate on the ‘doctor’s office model’ offering full-service legal assistance at a minimum cost without retainer fees . . . regardless of immigration status”
August 5, 2020—Santa Maria, CA – Egan Law today announced the opening of FLIC (Family Law & Immigration Center). FLIC’s Executive Director and Supervising Attorney M. Jude Egan reports that the center is providing a new model of legal assistance services to those who otherwise may not be able to afford to hire full-service legal assistance or pay retainer fees, or who choose to assert more control over their legal fees and costs. “The need for this center stemmed from the lack of lower-cost legal resources in the areas of family and immigration law. Existing legal aid clinics are often limited by their mandates to only serve people under a certain income threshold or with defined immigration status and are, in any event, limited by available staffing resources,” said Egan.
According to the 2010 US census, 64% of households in Santa Maria speak a language other than English and 62% of households subsist within 125% of the poverty line. Additionally, approximately 65% of family law parties are representing themselves in the family court, while data from the American Immigration Council indicates that only 37% of immigrants in removal cases had counsel nationwide, with the number far lower for Central American immigrants.
Egan, who is also a Certified Family Law Specialist certified by the State Bar of California, adds that because “FLIC operates on a clinic or doctor’s office model, it is not subject to government limitations on whom it can serve. All are welcome without regard to income or immigration status. An attorney counsels the client, sets forth strategy and advises the client and assigns staff members to draft and submit documents to the Courts or the consulate.”
FLIC’s access-to-a-lawyer-at-any-time model distinguishes it from Legal Document Assistant and self-help legal services, who can help with legal forms, but are not permitted to dispense legal advice under state law. “While there is a place for Legal Document Assistants in poor communities, they are often pushed to inappropriately dispense legal advice. I’ve seen this ‘advice’ cost parties tens of thousands of dollars and even cause them to lose their case so many times. Just a 30-minute meeting with a lawyer could have avoided sometimes tragic results,” said Egan. “We are not trying to take aim at LDAs or self-help legal providers, per se, but FLIC can provide accurate legal advice and deliver paperwork on a timely basis for the same or less than the cost of a non-lawyer, leaving clients with the possibility of full-service engagement if they decide to go that route and access to counsel at any time for a fraction of the cost of full-service representation.”
Elizabeth Ramirez Barragan, an immigration attorney who also handles family law matters and FLIC’s Assistant Director and Staff Attorney says, “One of the biggest challenges of working with full-service law firms is that the lawyer and the client often do not know exactly how much a legal action is going to cost. We help anyone, from those trying to control their legal costs to those who need legal help but can’t afford to hire a lawyer to do it all for them; and they know exactly how much it will cost them before the work is done.” Furthermore, Ramirez explains, “FLIC lets clients pick and choose the legal services they get from a menu of options each with a set price, from simple consultations and drafting documents to full-service representation. All of this is done so that almost anyone can afford to hire a lawyer to advise them throughout their case.”
ABOUT FLIC: FLIC provides legal advice, helps draft divorce, custody and child and spousal support motions and declarations, fee waiver applications and financial disclosures. Our team will fill out proper forms under direction from lawyers, and provide advice on how to handle a case in court, including how to fix problem cases. For immigration, we will assist you with all aspects of immigration law from DREAM Act filings to visa applications. Attorneys may also make limited scope appearances for clients, by mutual agreement, on a case by case basis.
FLIC attorneys and staff are meeting with clients via Zoom. We are licensed across the State of California and can assist people in matters across the State.
For more information, visit www.fliconline.us
Starr Egan- Public & Community Relations