It’s a place where new Americans, or at least those who want to become Americans, go for help.
It’s the New American Legal Clinic, a service of San Joaquin College of Law. The program offers non-citizens, who are legally residing in the United States, with help navigating through the naturalization process. The clinic provides its services at no cost.
“People don’t always know that there are these free legal services available, where you can actually have your case reviewed by an attorney.” —NALC’s Gregory Olson
“We process over 400 naturalization cases a year,” says NALC Director & Professor of Law Gregory Olson. “We are really focused on trying to help legal permanent residents, here legally in the United States.”
Olson wants more people to know that his team is looking for more clients to help.
“People don’t always know that there are these free legal services available, where you can actually have your case reviewed by an attorney,” Olson said. “There’s a lot of need here in the Valley. One of the difficult things is getting our message out that we’re here and able to help people.”
Rosie Oganesyan sought NALC’s services last year to finally realize her dream to take the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.
Oganesyan legally immigrated to America with her family from Armenia in 1980 when she was 12 years old. She mistakenly thought she would become a citizen when her parents took the oath years later. That didn’t happen, but her desire to become an American never left.
“I told my husband I wanted to become United States citizen. And he said ‘Why you rushing? You will become a United States citizen,” Rosie said.
But, Rosie said, life happened. She raised children, worked as a baker, and finally, in 2017 decided it was time.
“I called San Joaquin College of Law. I came to the office and the staff, they helped me.”
NALC Helps Future Attorneys, Too
NALC provides free services to low-income immigrants. It is funded through a six-figure grant from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service and the California Dept. of Social Services.
Olson says NALC provides a great training ground for the future attorneys learning at SJCL.
“Hopefully, (SJCL) students are able to open up their own shop or go straight into a law firm that does immigration law, and have an extra step ahead of someone who didn’t take an immigration clinic while in law school.”
Spending time with NALC is a perfect fit for SJCL student Vaughan Rios.
“My husband is an immigrant. I also lived overseas for about five years. I felt a unique connection to that topic,” Rios said. It helps, she adds that she is fluent in Spanish. “It is a great opportunity to put some law school skills, along with my language skills and some personal experience as well.”
Olson said it’s important to go through the complicated legal process with an attorney.
“We are here to help (new immigrants) so they can get the services that they need to make sure that they’re not sending an application in that is going to be ineffective or possibly even get them into trouble getting into immigration court,” Olson said.
It’s a great chance for Rios to put her learning into action.
“We absolutely research. We look into their particular case; advise them on what the next step is; have them come in and fill out paperwork or bring in documentation that’s required,” she said.
Olson notes that NALC handles mainly naturalization cases. It is rare for them to handle deportation or criminal matters for a practical reason: proximity. Such cases are heard either in the Bay Area or Southern California. NALC will refer those cases out to other attorneys.
Worth the Wait
It took her a while, but Oganesyan is happy she took her oath.
“I’m very grateful because now I can vote and I can have my say. Everything that I want to say, I can say it,” she said. “Thanks to (NALC), I became a citizen. I’m very proud to be a citizen.”
To reach NALC:
San Joaquin College of Law
901 5th Street,
Clovis, CA 93612