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Casa Cornelia Law Center (Casa Cornelia) is a non-profit law firm that provides pro bono legal services to victims of human and civil rights violations. Casa Cornelia recruits, trains, and mentors volunteer attorneys, interpreters, and translators to leverage its limited resources into impact. Casa Cornelia is able to provide quality humanitarian legal services thanks, in large part, to the Pro Bono Program and Volunteer Interpreter and Translator Program, which combined are responsible for identifying the hundreds of volunteer attorneys, law clerks, interpreters, translators, and administrative interns who multiply the impact of their work. In 2019, Casa Cornelia responded to 2,661 persons seeking legal services through the Asylum, Children, and Victims of Crime programs.
Casa Cornelia is committed to upholding the legal rights of individuals fleeing their native countries due to political, social, religious, or ethnic persecution and/or torture. Our clients come to the U.S. from all over the world. A fortunate few are able to retain private counsel, but most are indigent and have little or no access to free legal representation — which is not provided. Casa Cornelia provides free counsel and representation to indigent asylum seekers at each step of their immigration journey. In 2019, the Law Center responded to 1,181 requests for assistance from persons fleeing violence and persecution in their homelands. The COVID-19 pandemic and recent policies that add barriers to the asylum process have challenged staff and volunteers. Yet Casa Cornelia continues to fight for its clients, and earlier this year even expanded its legal services for asylum seekers into the highly underserved area of Imperial Valley.
Thousands of unaccompanied children come to the U.S. each year, often escaping gang violence or domestic violence. These children are then detained and face removal proceedings where they are pitted against trained trial attorneys. All of them are entitled to important legal protections and deserve counsel. Some are eligible for asylum or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status protection. Casa Cornelia is the only non-profit law firm in San Diego County that provides free legal services to our county’s detained unaccompanied children. In addition, the organization represents children who are not detained but are eligible for humanitarian immigration relief. Casa Cornelia provided services to 1,000 immigrant children ranging from infancy through age seventeen (and into young adulthood) in 2019.One recent bright spot for the Children’s Program was that a severe backlog in green cards for children granted special humanitarian protection finally cleared up in June, which has resulted in securing a better future for these children.
Victims of Crime Program
Among the most vulnerable in the immigrant community, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, are undocumented victims of serious crime such as domestic violence and human trafficking. Immigrant victims of domestic violence may be eligible for lawful immigrant status — protections created by Congress to prevent noncitizen victims from suffering in silence for fear of deportation and separation from their families. However, seeking this protection is difficult. Applications for relief require English; evidence must be gathered, reproduced, and translated; and legal issues must be resolved. Even more fundamentally, these traumatized victims must be identified and encouraged to seek help. Casa Cornelia responds to the urgent needs of undocumented victims of violent crimes by providing free legal representation to assist them with their visa petitions, empowering them to leave abusive relationships, achieve economic independence, regain their self-esteem, and begin a new life for themselves and their children. During 2019, 480 individuals sought the assistance of the Law Center through the Victims of Crime Program.
Support Services Program
Casa Cornelia’s Support Services Coordinator assists clients with their non-legal needs, including making connections with family members, accessing asylee benefits, and finding critical housing, financial, food, medical, and mental health resources. This work is especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, because many clients have lost jobs and find themselves in dire economic situations. While it has been difficult to find resources to help clients through this time, it is possible to find resources such as a local program that provides grants directly to immigrants and refugees who have lost their jobs.
Casa Cornelia invites the San Diego community to join them for the La Mancha Awards on Thursday, October 15 at 5:30pm. This virtual version of their annual event will honor Casa Cornelia’s incredible volunteers and will feature interviews with former clients. Awards include Distinguished Pro Bono Attorney of the Year, Law Firm of the Year, Pro Bono Publico Awards, and Special Recognition Awards. Register for free here.
Learn more about donation and volunteer opportunities or sign up for the newsletter by visiting casacornelia.org.