IIIC helps immigrants integrate into society
When uprisings and violence engulfed Syria two years ago, sisters
Marine and Vana were forced to make a difficult decision. Their
family in Aleppo was specifically targeted by a rebel group because
of their Armenian heritage and Christian religion. Many of their
friends had even been killed. Leaving family members behind, the
two sisters decided to flee Syria for the United States, afraid and
not knowing what the future might hold.
After a few months in the U.S., the two sisters sought help for
their situation through the Irish International Immigrant Center in
Boston (IIIC), a nonprofit organization founded in 1989, which
assists immigrants from Ireland and around the world as they
integrate into American society. Knowing it would be extremely
dangerous for the sisters to return to Syria, the IIIC helped them
apply for temporary protected status, which had just recently been
announced for Syrians.
In just a few months of working with IIIC, the sisters received
employment authorization, and their temporary protected status
applications were granted this past May. Marine, an economist, and
Vana, a pharmacist, are eager to return to school and fulfill both
career and personal aspirations that were taken away from them in
Syria. Thanks to the work of the IIIC, those dreams are now a
Immigration and Citizenship Legal Services
Integral to the overall success of the IIIC is its Immigration and
Citizenship Legal Services Program, which provides free legal
consultations to immigrants, refugees and asylees in the Greater
Boston area. The Massachusetts Bar Foundation (MBF), the
philanthropic partner of the MBA, has helped sustain the program by
providing a grant each year through its IOLTA Grants Program since
2001. The program has once again been funded by the MBF for the
"The MBF has proudly funded the important work of the IIIC,
because we know what a critical lifeline their legal assistance can
provide to individuals and families who need their help," said MBF
President Robert J. Ambrogi. "Of the various issues we support,
immigration-related legal aid remains one of the MBF's highest
Started in 1994, the program holds free, drop-in legal clinics
four times per month at the IIIC's Boston office, and at community
locations, such as the Green Briar Pub in Brighton, St. Mark's
Parish in Dorchester and the Laboure Health Center in South Boston.
Clients meet with either a staff attorney from the IIIC or one of
their 15 pro bono attorneys for consultation on any immigration law
issue. The IIIC has five full-time attorneys on staff whose
positions are funded in part by the MBF grant.
"Funding is extremely vital," said Jeannie Kain, managing attorney
at the IIIC. "We wouldn't be able to provide the services if we
didn't have funding like we get from the Mass. Bar Foundation and
Navigating immigration law
The primary purpose of the clinics is to provide information to
clients about complex immigration issues they may be facing. These
issues may include areas such as obtaining a green card, applying
for permanent residency, family reunification cases, applying for
temporary protected status and becoming a U.S. citizen. Some client
cases are taken for full representation by the IIIC in front of
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The program annually serves 1,240 immigrants with full case
representation for 250. Clients come from more than 120 nations,
including Ireland, Haiti, the Middle East, and Central and South
America; more than one-third are asylees or refugees from Africa.
Founded by a group of Irish immigrants and funded in part by the
Irish government, the IIIC also works with partner organizations to
promote reconciliation in Ireland.
Every 18 months the IIIC serves many Haitian clients seeking to
renew their temporary protected status, which was given after Haiti
suffered a catastrophic earthquake in 2010.
Almost all of the IIIC clients are indigent and some are homeless.
Most do not have an advanced understanding of the complexities of
immigration law and obtaining citizenship. In many cases, the IIIC
provides the only road map for navigating such a confusing
"Immigration laws are so complicated and the stakes are really
high," added Kain. "If you screw up on your green card application
you could get deported."
The physical change
During her two and half years as an attorney at the IIIC, Kain has
seen the full spectrum of cases and clients. Many of her clients
seeking asylum and refugee status come to the U.S. with absolutely
nothing, often fleeing with one suitcase while leaving their family
behind. Kain notes that it is remarkable to witness the physical
change that many of her clients go through.
At their first appointment, many clients exhibit body language
that indicates a "down and out" demeanor due to the overwhelming
nature and uncertainty of the situation. However, the peace of mind
gained from going through the process of becoming a citizen and
being able to vote and participate in society has a significant
effect on their personal appearance. By the end, that initial
demeanor has vanished and the new person is almost unrecognizable
according to Kain. The personal impact is immeasurable.
"I went to law school because I wanted to help people and I wanted
to really have an impact on the world," said Kain. "I feel like you
have that when you do this type of work."
A constant challenge
While the IIIC helps transform many lives, it still faces ongoing
challenges. Immigration law is a complex subject area, which can
often be politically charged. Language barriers and cultural
differences can also make for a challenging clientele to work with.
Funding for this type of work has decreased dramatically in recent
years, including from the MBF IOLTA Grants Program, so the IIIC is
constantly seeking new resources to keep IIIC's critical programs
Unlike criminal law, there is no public defender system in
immigration law and many immigrants go unrepresented as they face
dire consequences such as being deported. Continuing to provide
access to representation for immigrants, asylees and refugees is a
constant concern for the IIIC. Without the vital services that the
IIIC provides, many of its clients would be left to their own
devices while facing an uncertain future.
"Our legal system is only as good as the access that you have to
it," said Kain. "Unfortunately, immigration law is very
inaccessible to most people. Without legal services and pro bono
assistance, these people do not have access to our system of
government and justice."