by Rachel Winkler
The efficient and effective delivery of immigration benefits and services to our service members, veterans, and their families is essential to military readiness and to national security. Since 2001, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has naturalized 106,850 members of the military and almost 3,000 military spouses, with 11,240 of those service members becoming citizens during USCIS naturalization ceremonies in 35 foreign countries all over the world while they were stationed.
As an immigration attorney and a military spouse, I’ve received countless requests for assistance from service members and their families experiencing immigration-related issues. When I was working on immigration policy issues for the federal government, it was my job to help identify potential systemic issues that may be causing the underlying concerns. Now in private practice, I’m enjoying providing direct legal assistance, and I’ve continued to learn about programs that can serve as a resource for this specific legal need. Most recently, I’ve met with leadership of the Military Assistance Program (MAP) of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and am very impressed with their important work.
Immediately following my departure from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, I joined AILA, a national association of attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. Serving as President of MSJDN gave me a crash course in bar leadership and organizational management and I found a similar structure at AILA. Similar to MSJDN, AILA is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that provides continuing legal education, information, professional services, and expertise. However, AILA currently has more than 15,000 members all over the world with 39 chapters and over 50 national committees. The breadth and depth of the work they do covers all aspects of immigration.
After years of meeting with AILA members and hearing about issues impacting their clients, and how members clearly value the important connections and professional support provided by AILA membership, I have enjoyed expanding my legal network by becoming a member. Because I’m relatively new to private practice, I also appreciated the myriad of resources AILA offers immigration attorneys that I’ve now come to rely on. Most importantly though, I’ve enjoyed getting involved in pro bono and advocacy projects that were previously unavailable to me as a government employee. Specifically, AILA MAP clearly marries two of my passions – serving immigrants and military families.
For the last eight years, MAP has been a collaborative effort between AILA and the Legal Assistance Offices (LAO) of the United States military’s Judge Advocacy General’s (JAG) Corps. While LAOs provide free assistance to active duty service members and their families, JAG attorneys have recently been inundated with more complex immigration legal questions that require the assistance of seasoned immigration attorneys. Post-election, the program has seen a dramatic increase in the number of applications and currently has more than 150 cases waiting to be matched with volunteer attorneys. As a result, MAP is regularly seeking experienced immigration attorneys to take on the pro bono cases of these deserving service members. Accordingly, I’m reaching out to my MSJDN network and sharing this opportunity.
If you happen to be an AILA member and are interested in taking on this type of pro bono opportunity, please consider volunteering! You can learn more here: http://www.aila.org/military. If you have any questions about MAP, please contact Erin Lynum at email@example.com or 202-507-7667.