On Saturday, March 30, 2013, the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association (APALSA) at Florida Coastal School of Law hosted the Vietnamese Refugee Outreach Project (“VN Outreach”). The purpose of the project was to provide indigent and special needs Vietnamese Refugees with free legal assistance in the naturalization process. In all, 18 refugees attended the event seeking help with their application for naturalization and advice about the path to citizenship in the United States.
The mission of the project is to sufficiently help a pocket community in Jacksonville one semester at a time. Being the largest city geographically, Jacksonville consists of many pocket communities that are not recognized. Many of the refugees who were over the age of 60 and some had disability that hindered them of the cognizable ability to read, write, and understand English.
This project differs from Florida Coastal’s annual Citizenship Day, in that most of the refugees served required in-depth legal assistance due to their age, language barrier, and medical conditions. The assistance will not conclude at the end of the event. Coastal Law Immigrant Rights Clinic will provide full service representation through the Citizenship process.
This event could not have been possible without the help and support of the Deans, Faculty, Professors, Student Bar Association, Students, and Immigrant Rights Clinicians at Coastal Law. In total, there were 30 students, 4 attorneys, and 10 interpreters that volunteered at the event. The project not only provided students with pro-bono legal opportunities but it also infused and promoted multiculturalism and awareness of diversity among the faculty and student body.
The Vietnamese Association and the APALSA of the University of Florida Law School also contributed greatly to this project. The Vietnamese Association of Jacksonville helped advertise the project throughout Jacksonville, posting flyers at local Vietnamese restaurants, businesses temples, and churches. In addition, six members of the association volunteered as interpreters for the project. Members of the UF APALSA as well as Alumni for UF traveled from Gainesville to Jacksonville, volunteered as interpreters, and provided Coastal Law APALSA with their full support for the project.
The VN Outreach was organized and planned by Bich Tran under the mentorship and supervision of Professor Ericka Curran. Being a first generation immigrant, Bich understands how difficult the path to citizenship is for individuals with a language barrier. As a young girl Bich watched her parents struggle with the naturalization process. Through those struggles, her parents prevailed and Bich was granted the identity as a U.S. citizen at a very young age. Unfortunately, many refugees are currently going through the same struggles that her parents went through. When Professor Curran presented her with the opportunity to give back to her community, she could not refuse. Her parents taught her that a small change can make a big impact. Bich hopes that the Vietnamese Refugee Outreach Project will be an annual pro-bono event at Coastal Law and to expand the project to other pocket communities in Jacksonville.
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