Equal Justice Works Fellowship Project Will Provide Civil Legal Services for Memphis Immigrants by BRITTANY BANES
magine you are in an unfamiliar country. You know only a few basic words of the language, and you do not understand the legal system. However, you are desperate to stay because your home has been overrun by violence, corruption and poverty. You soon run into trouble. Your abusive spouse convinces you that you will lose your children and be deported if you file for divorce. Or maybe a shady car salesman takes your paymentâ€”almost all your moneyâ€”and refuses to give you the keys. Perhaps your landlord repeatedly ignores your requests to fix the air conditioning. Similar situations routinely happen to low-income immigrants in Memphis, and many find it impossible to hire an attorney. My mission is to change that. My name is Brittany Bane, and I am an Equal Justice Works Fellow. Equal Justice Works connects new attorneys with sponsors who fund projects that fill a justice gap or innovate the provision of legal services. My project, sponsored by International Paper, is the new Civil Immigrant Justice Program at the Community Legal Center (CLC). The objectives of the project are to represent low-income immigrants in civil cases and to educate immigrants about their rights.
The Need Addressed The Memphis metropolitan area is home to about 70,000 immigrants.1 Many fall into low-income 28
categories, with 21.7 percent below the Federal Poverty Level.2 Being low-income is associated with experiencing frequent legal needs. A 2014 report revealed that more than 60 percent of low-income Tennesseans experienced at least one civil legal issue per year, the average being 3.66.3 Despite the frequency of civil legal needs, no affordable options have been available to low-income immigrants. Hiring a private attorney is a landmine due to cost and low English proficiency. Language issues also preclude pro se litigation, as court documents must be in English and the litigant would need a court certified interpreter. Even legal aid organizations are limited in this area. Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS) is unable to represent undocumented immigrants in most cases because it receives a portion of its funding from the Legal Service Corporation. Other nonprofits in Memphis provide affordable representation in immigration matters, but a program for civil legal aid tailored to the needs of the immigrant community has not existed. This need inspired me along with the CLC team to design the Civil Immigrant Justice Program.
What the Program Will Do The Civil Immigrant Justice Program will offer direct representation to low-income immigrants in civil areas including divorce, probate, contracts, consumer and landlord/tenant. Addressing the legal needs of immigrants will improve their social, financial and physical wellbeing, and in turn make Memphis as a whole better.