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Life Changing Immigration Education Paired with Life Saving Quality Legal Services

Combining humanitarian legal protection with multi-pronged immigration education will ensure peace and prosperity for immigrant victims.

Photo of Courtney
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The photo we included captures the image of a child client of Casa Cornelia's (on the left) and her aunt and guardian (on the left).

The video we included depicts our 2016 Attorney of the Year (Jae Park, Esq.) describing why he loves to volunteer with Casa Cornelia.

Finally, the document we included was used for a recent attorney giving campaign, and is a collection of real client stories and testimonials. 

Explain your idea

Our idea, 'Life Changing Immigration Education Paired with Quality Legal Services', is a response to the rapidly shifting immigration policy landscape in the U.S. There is a great deal of fear and uncertainty in our border community of San Diego, and our idea is to take a multi-pronged approach to immigration education, while also backing up this outreach with the quality humanitarian legal services that we already provide. Our idea will work the following ways: (1) Client identification through community education: Like many non-profits, Casa Cornelia has been busy providing Know Your Rights presentations ever since the U.S.'s new federal administration issued several Executive Orders and memos that shifted how immigrants are treated. Yet there isn't yet an easy, centralized, and streamlined way to refer potential undocumented clients who qualify for immigration relief under the law to the right organization. Each organization's capacity is constantly shifting due to constraints like staffing, volunteer availability, and funding. A centralized referral system would allow an attendee at a Know Your Rights presentation to be quickly referred to the right organization for them; an organization that would provide them with an attorney who could help. (2) Empowerment through Immigration Education: At these community outreach events, everyone who attends (regardless of whether they are eligible for legal relief), will be armed with valuable knowledge - given by attorneys - about their legal rights and responsibilities, allowing them to be less overwhelmed by the fear, anxiety and uncertainty that comes along with ramping up deportation. (3) Expansion of volunteer network: Casa Cornelia is fortunate to have the assistance of hundreds of Volunteer Attorneys and Volunteer Interpreters and Translators, the latter of whom speak over 30 languages to serve our clients from all over the world. These volunteers are trained and become advocates themselves, educating their friends about immigrants who are here in the U.S. because they are fleeing violence. However, we are learning that a third category of volunteer will be vital in pursuing our goal of Immigration Education in the community. This is a role that new volunteers could take on to learn about the impact of immigration law and recent immigration policy on the public good. This Speaker's Bureau would be able to present to churches, synagogues, mosques, community groups, giving circles, and much more about the impact of immigration policy on each one of us. (4) Education of children clients through Child Facilitator role: In 2016, Casa Cornelia responded to 999 unaccompanied children, the most we have ever served. On a micro-level, there is Immigration Education and guiding that needs to happen with each child client. Children need more individual attention to educate them about the court process, as well as education and information about vital social services for which they qualify.

Who Benefits?

The beneficiaries of our idea are multiple: - Undocumented immigrants who do not know they qualify for humanitarian protection under the law: There are many individuals who qualify for relief under U.S. law, but do not know that they qualify due to barriers like poverty, language, and abuse. Coupling the ongoing Know Your Rights presentations with quick legal referrals will provide this bridge to justice and peace. - Unaccompanied children: The majority of Casa Cornelia's clients are unaccompanied children who arrive in the U.S. alone, fleeing violence, abuse, and abandonment. This effort will help them to navigate their new country and the immigration system. - The general public in San Diego and beyond: A more robust community Immigration Education program will increase the 'immigration literacy' of the general public, which will increase compassion and empathy in our community. A large group of community members will be educated on the real-life impacts of immigration policy.

How is your idea unique?

(1) While there is a great deal of outreach being done by many groups to educate immigrants, many of them are not done by organizations that specifically provide immigration legal services themselves. There are advocacy groups engaging in community education, and legal service providers that provide humanitarian legal protection, but we are envisioning a streamlined bridge between the two, connecting outreach event attendees with legal services quickly and effectively. We are uniquely positioned to do both, and to train additional volunteers to further expand our reach into the community. (2) Casa Cornelia is the only organization in San Diego that serves detained unaccompanied children who arrive seeking safety in the U.S., although we also serve non-detained children. Thus, we are uniquely positioned to give the children we serve special attention as they navigate this incredibly complex immigration legal system, and to educate them about other resources as well.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Tell us more about you

In 1992, the leaders of the American Province of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus asked one of its members, Sister Ann Durst, to consider opening a contemporary mission in the Southwest to serve those in need. There was and is a desperate need for legal services for indigent immigrants in San Diego, California. Casa Cornelia Law Center was founded the following year. The mission of Casa Cornelia is to provide quality pro bono legal services to victims of human and civil rights violations. Sitting next to one of the busiest land border crossings in the world, San Diego County is the site of a maximum-security detention center housing scores of asylum applicants, detention centers for unaccompanied children, and the Immigration Courts. All these undocumented victims, and there are hundreds each year, need legal assistance in their journey to freedom and peace. For individuals who are not able to find legal services but may indeed qualify to be able to stay in the U.S., they are sent home. Asylum seekers without an attorney have an only 16% chance of winning their case, and in many cases, being sent home means persecution, torture, or death because of who they are. For those who do find humanitarian protection under the law (often through the help of an attorney), they are able to work legally with a 'green card', and eventually become legal permanent residents of the U.S. These legal services, together with our proposal of a multi-pronged Immigration Education idea, truly link the peace that our clients feel once we take their case, and the prosperity that they are able to achieve for themselves and their families once they are on the other side. Casa Cornelia's clients include abused and abandoned unaccompanied children, asylum seekers (who meet the same definition as a refugee) fleeing persecution, and victims of serious crimes like domestic violence and human trafficking. Casa Cornelia responds to the needs of the indigent community; responding to 2,280 children, women, and men from more than fifty countries around the world each year. Our services help them find hope and enable them to live a life free from abuse, persecution and torture. Casa Cornelia is fortunate to have the assistance of hundreds of volunteers to make its mission possible: volunteer attorneys, interpreters and translators, and other volunteers. We work with many wonderful community partners, and one very relevant one to this project is a new Rapid Response coalition that has formed after recent immigration Executive Orders. This group is working on putting together a hotline to report Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and find resources quickly. Setting up a network of legal referrals will be done in partnership with this Rapid Response group, comprised of many community partners such as the ACLU, Alliance San Diego, and Jewish Family Service. Thank you so much for changing my life. I will forever be grateful to Casa Cornelia. — Former Client

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.


Join the conversation:

Photo of eldy wullur

Hello Courtney, Fear is the biggest factor affecting immigrants. So much fear, fear of being arrested, fear returned to the country of origin, fear of high fines, afraid to go to jail.
Legal certainty is essential to eliminate their suffering. I am grateful for the deep sense of humanity of you.

Photo of Courtney

Dear Eldy,

Yes, thank you for your comment. Education and access to free, quality legal services are key to alleviating the fear and anxiety that is out there. Thank you so much for your empathy and your support! I am grateful for the deep sense of humanity of you as well.