The Maryland Immigrant Rights Coalition (MIRC) is a grassroots organization made up of caring members of the legal services and immigrant advocacy community who are concerned about the rights of immigrants in this Patriot Act-era. The group was formed to allay growing concerns about the lack of legal assistance available to the immigrant population and the recognized need for pro bono representation across the state.
One of the first goals was to raise awareness of immigration issues that people face - not only in the private bar but for the general public and the business community as well. It was determined that the first step should be the training of private attorneys in immigration issues to enable them to take cases on a pro bono basis. It was believed that this would not only raise awareness of bar members but also increase understanding among staff and others in the community. It would also help highlight issues among members of the bench and court system as backlogged cases in the immigration court received help from pro bono lawyers.
One of the first events sponsored by MIRC was a training seminar on Political Asylum and other immigration matters, with the Court assisting in coordinating a mock trial component. More than 40 volunteer lawyers attended the sessions, indicating a high level of interest in the program. Attendees came not only from all over Maryland but from Washington, D.C., Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia as well. The plan is for the Court and other immigrant agencies to refer cases to the new cadre of volunteers.
But the training accomplished only one part of the group’s initiative; the next effort will be centered on raising the consciousness in the general public and business community as well as addressing some immigration issues locally. The next event sponsored by MIRC is a Legal Information Fair on Sunday, May 18, 2008, from 12:30 p.m. until 5:00 p.m., at the Hispanic Apostolate Immigration Legal Services located at 430 South Broadway in Baltimore. There will be attorneys on hand to answer individual legal questions that immigrants may have about immigration itself or employment, divorce, consumer rights and how criminal charges can affect the immigrants’ status. Interpreters will be available on a limited basis to assist with the free consultations. Lawyers will also give presentations throughout the afternoon, in English and Spanish, on various legal topics.
While more than a dozen groups are represented in the MIRC mix, the reins of leadership for the organization are being shared by several dedicated people in the immigration community, most notably Patricia Chiriboga-Roby, Esq., of Catholic Charities Immigration Clinic; Mark Shmueli, Esq., AILA DC/MD/VA Pro Bono Coordinator and an attorney in private practice; and Maureen Sweeney, Esq., at the University of Maryland School of Law Clinic. Shmueli had this to say about the reason for the outpouring of support for the organization and its mission: Both the legal community and many others are very excited to see the work our organization is doing on behalf of immigrants’ rights in Maryland. People want to make sure that immigrants are properly represented and that we have rational immigration policies. As one of the premier melting pots in a nation of immigrants, Maryland’s residents know that those who come to our country are risk-takers and innovators. They know that those who leave their homes, many under very trying conditions, to come here are often the ones with the creativity, ingenuity and tenacity to continue to make our nation great. Many Marylanders look no further than their own families to be reminded of that. MIRC believes that by providing pro bono legal representation, community education and advocacy we can help to make sure that no opportunities are lost and that immigrants are able to continue to enhance our state and nation. We are heartened by the support from the Maryland (and DC) legal community and are excited to continue our work together.
If you would like to get involved with this effort, MIRC or any other of the pro bono opportunities around the state, contact Jon Moseley at the Pro Bono Resource Center at (410) 837-9379 or (800) 396-1274, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Support pro bono work in your community. Add your resources to the fight.
Jon Moseley is Director of Volunteer Services & Community Outreach for the ProBonoResourceCenter of Maryland.