Allegheny County Bar Foundation New Immigration Asylum Project Launched

In response to a plea for help from the Pittsburgh Regional Immigrant Assistance Center (PRIAC) of Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh, the Allegheny County Bar Foundation’s (ACBF) Public Service Committee and PRIAC entered into a joint venture to devise a program to help meet the imminent need for volunteers to assist the growing number of indigent people seeking asylum. PRIAC, the only agency in southwestern Pennsylvania accredited by the U.S. Department of Justice Board of Immigration Appeals to provide free legal services, found itself without adequate volunteer resources to represent many indigent refugees in Allegheny County and has had to turn away a number of prospective clients. These clients have fled from political, religious, ethnic and gender-based persecution in countries plagued by human rights violations.

Attorney Lorrie K. Albert, the new pro bono coordinator for the ACBF, and Attorney Gina M. Godfrey, from PRIAC, designed the Immigration Asylum Project. Since asylum cases are very time intensive, this new project will enable PRIAC to meet the legal immigration needs of indigent clients who meet the criteria for services. Volunteers will have the unique opportunity to change the lives of these refugees by helping them win asylum in the United States.

Albert and Godfrey, the directors of the project at PRIAC, began recruiting lawyers as well as paralegals and law students to help with the research through presentations to ACBA committees and law firms. They also solicited volunteers through articles and the distribution of information to law schools and paralegal programs.

The program was launched with a training session for all volunteers on May 26, 2005. Attorneys received free CLE credit for the training and will be covered by the ACBF’s malpractice insurance for their pro bono work.

Over 80 volunteers attended the training, and the center already has 10 asylum seekers who will be assigned to newly trained volunteer teams for representation. Volunteers who were unable to attend the May training have been wait-listed. It is anticipated that a second training will be scheduled.

PRIAC is located at the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Pittsburgh Office at 5743 Bartlett Street in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Contact Lorrie Albert, Esq., ACBF pro bono coordinator, at lalbert@acba.org or (412) 402-6677 with inquiries regarding the project.