Church World Service (CWS) Lancaster

Since 2019, CWS Lancaster's Immigrant Children's Program has been providing legal representation and other legal assistance to unaccompanied immigrant children cross a ten-county area in southeast Pennsylvania. An unaccompanied child is one with no immigration status who enters the United States without a parent or legal guardian. Through a process administered by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (or "ORR"), unaccompanied children are placed in safe living situations with responsible adults (or "ORR sponsor") in our communities while their immigration cases play out. A large majority of unaccompanied children are eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (or "SIJS"), a visa category created in 1990 to protect children who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected by one or both parents where it is not in the child's best interest to return to their country of origin. Prior to applying for this form of immigration relief, however, a child must first have an order issued by a state court judge sitting in family, orphans' or juvenile courts containing the required best-interest and parental abandonment, abuse, or neglect findings.

As an essential part of our work, our network of volunteer attorneys represent ORR sponsors in state court actions for custody or guardianship. When a sponsor is empowered with the legal authority to care for the children already in their custody, the positive impact on the life of a child is immediate. Where a child is also eligible for SIJS, pro bono lawyers will advocate for the necessary factual findings to be included in the court order so that we can then help the child apply for the visa. This can positively impact a child for a lifetime! Not only does SIJS open up a pathway to citizenship and offer a defense against deportation, children with SIJS can begin to live normal lives and share the same experiences as their contemporaries in school. They can apply for drivers' licenses, work permits and envision futures for themselves. In short, children with SIJS are free to be children - sometimes for the very first time.

Any attorney interested in volunteering their time to help a child by walking with their ORR sponsor through the state court process should feel free to reach out for more information!

  • County(s) of Volunteer Opportunity: Berks, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Montgomery, York
  • Area of law: Family & Juvenile
  • Populations Served: Asylum Seekers, Children, Communities of Color, Domestic Violence Victims, Farm workers, Human Trafficking Survivors, Immigrant youth and unaccompanied minors, Immigrants, Individuals who are not in legal immigration status, Juveniles, Lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender, Low Income, State Residents, Working poor and unemployed
  • Opportunities For: Law school clinic, Law Students, Lawyers, Small and medium law firm attorneys
  • Hours for Pro Bono Opportunities: Flexible, Monday-Friday 9am-5pm
  • Malpractice insurance is provided for volunteers: Yes
  • Training Provided: Yes
  • Training Required: No
  • CLE credit for trainings: No
  • CLE credit for pro bono: No
  • Mentoring or supervision offered: Yes
  • Volunteer lawyers need to meet a caseload or hours requirement: No
  • Types of projects in need of Pro Bono help: Litigation: Trial/Direct Representation
  • Volunteers may participate long-distance: No
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