Lawyers from around Jacksonville are offering to help get the city’s immigrant residents on the road to citizenship this weekend.
It’s all in advance of Florida Coastal School of Law’s annual Citizenship Day. And for many of the counselors, the charity work is intensely personal.
On a sleepy Friday morning at Florida Coastal School of Law’s atrium, Immigrant Legal Clinic Director Ericka Curran sat at a table, flanked by volunteer lawyers and students.
“Typically we see between 80 and 100 individuals each year that we run through the whole program,” she said. “I think we anticipate (this year) closer to 150 to 175 and we’ve screened a lot more than that. Our phones have been ringing off the hook.”
For the last decade, the school has been holding large-scale Citizenship Days, where legal, permanent residents raise their right hands, take the oath of citizenship and make their relationship with the U.S. official.
Curran said the hardline immigration policy shift in Washington has swelled the interest in this year’s event. So for the first time, the school is requiring prospective citizens be screened for eligibility before the official function April 15.
A large team of students, faculty and attorneys will be on hand to walk people through the screening process and for many of them, like student Vanessa Pierre, the experience is all too familiar.
“My father got deported so this is really personal for me as far as helping people. And how I can really help the community, so this is really personal for me,” she said. “If he was more knowledgeable and made wiser decisions, at the same time if he knew his rights, things would be different.”
After 10 years in the business world, Pierre said she decided to get her law degree so she could help other Haitian immigrants avoid deportation.
Likewise, Jacksonville immigration attorney and Florida Coastal graduate Omer Ors said his family’s journey from Turkey led him to his career.
“To be honest with you, Citizenship Day focuses on unity. You know, that’s the American way. It’s not about dividing,” he said.
Legal permanent residents wanting to get screened for citizenship should be at the Florida Coastal School of Law at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
Newly naturalized citizens, their friends and family are welcome to join the citizenship ceremony and barbeque April 15.