Vietnamese Association Opens New Legal Clinic for Immigrants
The Vietnamese Association of Illinois (VAI) just opened up the Community Empowerment Legal Clinic (CELC) that will serve as the only full-service legal clinic on Chicago’s Northside serving the needs of low-income immigrants.
“The Community Empowerment Legal Clinic at VAI strives to be a full service legal clinic for our clients,” said Hanan Van Dril, a staff attorney. “We are not categorically rejecting any types of cases at this time, but our main areas of focus are immigration, family, employment, housing, education and criminal records.”
The clinic will serve the needs of low-income, limited-English Vietnamese, Iraqi, Syrian, Chinese, Ethiopian, Laotian, Burmese, Bhutanese, Eritrean, Togolese, Congolese, Somalian and Pakistani communities residing in Uptown, Edgewater, Andersonville and Albany Park.
“The only limitation we’re placing at this time is household income for our clients,” Van Dril wrote in an email. “We serve clients at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) for free and charge a nominal fee for clients with an annual household income of 150-200% of the FPL (federal poverty level).”
The new legal clinic is located in Uptown at VAI’s office on 5110 N. Broadway and is a collaboration between Community Activism Law Alliance and the Vietnamese Association of Illinois. Funded with a grant from the Julian Grace foundation to address a lack of low-cost legal options in Rogers Park, Uptown and the North Side in general, the CELC is a one-stop shop for legal services, offering pro bono advice, case assistance, advocacy and extended representation. Since initial consultations are free, services are discounted for low-income clients and there are staff who speak Vietnamese and Arabic.
“We can tackle immigration cases such as family-based petitions, U-visas, T-Visas, VAWA petitions, refugee applications, asylum proceedings and criminal records as well as areas of family law such as divorce, custody, child support and orders of protection,” said Clark Nguyen, Community Empowerment coordinator. “Housing issues we address include eviction, code violations and discrimination, while being able to tackle employment cases such as wage theft, workplace harassment and unfair labor practices. Additionally we cover education and consumer rights, as well as expungement and sealing of criminal records.”
CELC also offers trainings and workshops to educate the community and partner organizations on legal rights and self-advocacy on local issues, Nguyen stated.
He added that the center will act as a resource for residents to access legal aid as well as engage their alderman/community leaders on problems in the community such as lack of affordable housing, inadequate social services, discrimination against immigrants, etc.
The center will also supplement VAI’s other programs such as community care, health services and ESL adult education, Nguyen said.