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Assoc. Prof. Daniel Kanstroom (Law) and BC Law student Sarah Sherman-Stokes, who are leading efforts to provide legal counsel to Haitian families: “It’s not as traumatic as responding to the crisis on the ground,” says Kanstroom, “but the legal community is scrambling to figure out the best way to proceed.” (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Boston College Law School leads area effort to help Haitian immigrants

Part of a national network of lawyers and advocates mobilized across the US, Boston College Law School faculty, stiudents and alum work to help Haitian families
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By Melissa Beecher | Chronicle Staff
Published: January 28, 2010
On the heels of the Obama Administration granting Temporary Protected Status to Haitians residing in the United States, Boston College Law School faculty, students and graduates are involved in a local effort to provide legal counsel to families who need help maneuvering the complicated immigration system.

Last week, 120 volunteers packed into a Boston College Law School classroom to participate in training sessions aimed at briefing lawyers on ways to help Haitian immigrants. Part of a coalition in Greater Boston to help the 55,000-strong sizable Haitian community, the BC Post-Deportation Human Rights Project and the Immigration Program at BC Law have been working to mobilize faculty and alumni who can provide resources for those impacted by the earthquake.

Boston College Associate Professor of Law Daniel Kanstroom and Law student Sarah Sherman-Stokes have led the Boston College Law School efforts, which have focused on clarifying immigration law for attorneys and advocates, enhancing communications among lawyers and organizing future free legal clinics in Boston and on Cape Cod.

"It's not as traumatic as responding to the crisis on the ground, but the legal community is scrambling to figure out the best way to proceed," said Kanstroom. "There is a strong sense of social justice at the Law School and the response has been an attempt to work hard and fast to provide area lawyers the tools they need to help Haitians in our community.

"What worries us is that people are desperate and can be targets. In the past, we have seen scoundrels that charge exorbitant fees, fill out paperwork incorrectly and basically deliver them to deportation within 18 months. There needs to be qualified people helping a population that is already traumatized and scared," said Kanstroom.

Working with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the Law School took part in a national "webinar" that included more than 1,000 participants from around the country. The technical presentation offered an overview on what needs to be done for Haitian immigrants and provided some of the harsh realities on immigration law – those who have been convicted of a crime in the United States, for example, are not eligible for TPS.

BC Law will moderate the Haiti TPS Action Listserv for legal professionals who would like to be notified of training sessions and volunteer opportunities in and around Boston. To be added to the list, lawyers should email shermase@bc.edu or kanstroo@bc.edu.

Clinics for legal help will be held at the Haitian Multi-Service Center in Dorchester, the Mattapan Public Library and the Hyannis Senior Center this week. A BC law website will soon be launched to provide additional information on legal clinics and volunteer opportunities.