For the thousands of Afghans evacuated to the U.S. hoping to find a new beginning, the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation is a lifeline.
Thanks to a generous grant from the State of Ohio, the Foundation is awarding $2.3 million over two years to support the immigration legal needs of nearly 2,000 Afghan evacuees. In partnership with the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA) and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the Foundation is distributing the funds to expand the capacity of Ohio nonprofits to provide direct immigration legal services and establish a statewide pro bono program.
“To be called on to help Afghans seeking safety and security in Ohio is an incredible honor,” said the Foundation’s Executive Director Angie Lloyd. “We were able to mobilize quickly with our partners to start offering services to Afghans, many of whom have complex legal needs.”
The Foundation has made awards to four grantees to support direct immigration legal services. Ohio’s legal aid organizations and specialty civil legal service providers are partnering with refugee resettlement agencies and have already helped 1,100 Afghan family members achieve safety and stability.
“Since the resettlement agencies are the Afghans’ first point of contact, each grant involves at least one resettlement agency and one legal service provider,” said the Foundation’s Programs and Grants Counsel Camille Gill. “We wanted to create a pipeline by which the resettlement agencies could refer their clients to legal services nonprofits which have the expertise in immigration law.”
The Foundation also designated funding for the operation of a statewide immigration pro bono program. Pro bono attorneys support the direct legal service providers to help ensure more Afghans receive services. In a remarkable show of support, more than 450 attorneys attended a volunteer training led by OSBA and the Foundation this summer, eager to learn how to help.
One of the first charges of the pro bono program, led by Catholic Charities Diocese of Cleveland, was to hire a pro bono coordinator. Based in Columbus, the coordinator will recruit, train, and support the volunteer attorneys who are willing to assist the Afghans statewide.
“[The volunteers] are interested and very passionate about the cause, but they need support,” said Allyson DiPofi, supervising attorney at Catholic Charities. “We want to empower people who have never taken an immigration case before to have the tools and skills they need to represent someone successfully.”
Both the direct services and pro bono programs are in the early stages. Still, Gill says that the Foundation is hopeful that the collaborative effort will result in quality immigration legal services for the Afghans in Ohio over the long term.
“We hope these efforts expand immigration legal services expertise and capacity at Ohio’s nonprofit providers for years to come,” she said.
If you’re an attorney and interested in volunteering for the Afghan effort but didn’t attend the OSBA training, please contact Morgen Morrisette, statewide immigration pro bono coordinator, at email@example.com.