WSBA’s Powerful Communities Project: Legal Clinics

An attorney consulting a senior couple

This is part of our series on the WSBA Powerful Communities Project. To learn more about this project, check out “Distribution of Power: A Look at the WSBA Powerful Communities Project.” Project proposals for funds in 2020 are due by 5 p.m., Feb. 7. Visit the Powerful Communities Project page to learn more and apply.

Colectiva Legal de Pueblo—Increasing Empowerment for Immigrant Families in Eastern Washington

Based in Burien, Colectiva Legal del Pueblo (CLP) is “a non-hierarchal collective organization founded for and by undocumented immigrants working to build community leadership and power for migrant justice through legal advocacy and education.”

For this project, CLP hoped to provide free legal consultations to at least 50 rural, low-income immigrants. In the end, it helped almost 70 immigrants and their families in rural Eastern Washington. CLP was able to advise families about their legal rights, provide support with family preparedness plans, and introduce them to deportation defense planning and electronic tools.

“One of the participants had shared the reluctance he felt, for after being in the country for over 20 years, our clinic was the first time he ever had access to talk to an immigration attorney,” CLP said.

The organization provided free legal clinics in remote rural areas. It helped lay the groundwork for more community empowerment with projects in the works to create organizing hubs for community members, nurture organizers “so that they can also reach out to individuals in their area and identify the top trends seen related to immigration processes,” and develop leadership models “to support growth and sustain that.”

Columbia Legal Services—Medical Legal Partnership Clinics for Farmworkers

Columbia Legal Services (CLS) provides legal assistance in cases involving broad-scale abuse, exploitation, denial of basic human rights, discrimination, and where there are opportunities to challenge the causes of poverty and promote lasting economic security for agricultural workers and those who have been involved with the criminal justice system.

With this project, CLS provided free legal consultations to low-income immigrants in underserved parts of rural Central and Eastern Washington, developed partnerships between legal advocates and medical-service providers, offered “know your rights” information to farmworkers, and engaged the undocumented community to identify other systemic issues. CLS’s partners include Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, OneAmerica, PopUp Justice, Northwest Justice Project, Commission on Hispanic Affairs, Yakima Immigrant Response Network, Heritage University, Neighborhood Health, and Children’s Village.

The organization helped coordinate three medical-legal partnership pop-up clinics and provided three attorneys to answer questions, provide referrals, and offer other resources, helping 26 clients on issues of immigration, housing, and family law. CLS also developed a stronger community presence through weekly outreach trips to meet with farmworkers and provide information about their rights.

One CLS client said, “A lot of us don’t know where or who to turn to; this helped [point] me in the right direction.”

Cowlitz Wahkiakum Legal Aid—Expansion of Assistance to Domestic Violence Survivors

Cowlitz Wahkiakum Legal Aid (CWLA) offers free civil legal aid through clinics, consultations, and full-court representation for low-income people whose livelihood, family, and wellness are threatened.

For this project, CWLA expanded resources for clients who need court protective orders in family law cases—over the past decade, there have been more cases involving domestic violence in Cowlitz County, per capita, than the state average. CWLA dedicated a staff member and local volunteer to set up a table with literature, a computer, and a printer at the local court for two-and-a-half hours per week to increase awareness and provide pro bono services to help even more people get the protection they need.

“The Protective Orders Program has expanded access to justice by providing a friendly face, answers to questions, free court forms, and free legal advice and help drafting legal documents for clients seeking safety and protection [through] the courts,” CWLA explained.

In its first month alone, the organization helped six clients and, “if the project continues to connect with six to 10 new clients per month, the results will be significant in our community.”

Eastside Legal Assistance Program—Increased Community Partnership and Outreach to Kent and Renton

With a skyrocketing cost of living in Seattle, many poorer communities and communities of color have been pushed farther to the southeast reaches King County, away from the central hub of legal service providers. To meet the client-community where they are, the Eastside Legal Assistance Program (ELAP), which provides free civil legal aid to low-income residents and survivors of domestic violence, began hosting monthly immigration clinics in the cities of Renton and Kent.

ELAP developed this project based on the results of a community-needs survey and outreach at six legal clinics, which together highlighted unique struggles of people who experience poverty and marginalization, with the most urgent legal issues identified as immigration, family law, and employment. ELAP further coordinated with other community-based organizations to engage in the “Learning Together in the Puget Sound” conference, and as of October 2019 had connected with more than 20 providers from community-based organizations in the Renton and Kent areas and provided legal assistance to nearly 90 individuals during a ”Know Your Rights” presentation and immigration legal clinic. And this effort has since led to a commitment from the city of Renton to host a General Law Legal Clinic beginning this year.

The STAR Project—Expansion of Assistance to Formerly Incarcerated People

The STAR Project provides legal services and support to people after they’ve served a felony conviction, offering such programs as pre-release transition, case management, and housing and employment assistance. With this project, The START Project directed more effort toward reducing the burden of Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) for clients: a frequently massive financial hurdle that can worsen the cycle of carceral recidivism.

Through the support of the Powerful Communities Project, the organization expanded awareness of its services that help people navigate the LFO system. To date, the STAR Project was able to help 25 clients who, collectively, have more than $140,000 in LFOs. Significantly, the STAR Project provided these legal resources to clients in the relatively remote area of Walla Walla and the surrounding southeastern corner of Washington, where the proximity to the state border allowed the STAR Project to also assist clients in Umatilla County in northern Oregon: “As a direct result of this grant opportunity, STAR now has the ability to assist clients with the LFO remittance process in Washington state and Oregon.”