By Greg Olson
Are you, or someone you know, trying to become a citizen but can’t afford the legal costs?
San Joaquin College of Law (SJCL), a nonprofit law school in Clovis, operates the New Americans Legal Clinic (NALC), offering free assistance to legal residents seeking to become citizens. The Law School has received significant grants to aid in this process, including a $250,000 grant from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the past year, which is shared with the Fresno Adult School (FAS).
The grant is an attempt by the USCIS to assist California low-income legal permanent residents who are eligible for naturalization. In 2014, 2,470,000 California residents were eligible for naturalization, at least 118,000 of which reside in Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Merced counties.
Through a partnership of the FAS and the SJCL’s NALC, legal permanent residents take citizenship classes and, if needed, English-language classes at the FAS and then are provided free naturalization services through the NALC, including filing necessary forms and providing representation through all phases of the process, with an attorney attending every interview. The SJCL also works with other adult schools.
In its six-year history, the NALC has provided such services for more than 1,000 legal permanent residents from at least 25 different countries. The NALC has a full-time attorney, client services coordinators, student advocates and volunteer attorneys from the community.
The Valley’s population is ethnically diverse; 22% of its population is foreign-born, and English is not the language spoken in the home for 47% of the population. Less than 15% of Valley residents hold a bachelor’s degree and more than a quarter live below the poverty line. This combination demonstrates the Valley’s need for English-language training, citizenship instruction and naturalization assistance to break the poverty cycle.
This grant, the third of its kind to the FAS and SJCL, will help these prospective citizens fully participate in the American economy and life. For more information, contact the NALC at 559-326-1553.
Greg Olson is the Director for the New American Legal Clinic and a professor who teaches Real Property at San Joaquin College of Law in Clovis. Prior to joining the full-time faculty at SJCL, he worked for multiple law firms in the Fresno-Madera area. In law school, he was the Managing Editor of the Virginia Journal of Law and Technology. He is fluent in Spanish.