Columbia University Establishes Community/Law Partnership With Alianza Dominicana And Legal Aid Society
Columbia University announced the launch of its new community law partnership with the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, Alianza Dominicana and The Legal Aid Society of New York. The Legal Aid Society, through a Columbia University grant of $300,000 over three years has assigned Maria Navarro, a long-time Washington Heights resident, as the project attorney. The reception brought together representatives of Columbia University, Alianza Dominicana, The Legal Aid Society of New York, elected officials and community leaders from Upper Manhattan. Columbia Law School students will work with Navarro to support the work of the new office, which is housed in Alianza Dominicana's Upper Manhattan offices.
Accepting her appointment, Navarro said, "I am really excited to have the opportunity to be able to provide legal services in my own community in collaboration with Columbia University and Alianza Dominicana. As an immigrant growing up in Washington Heights, I have seen the many problems immigrants face. I also know how difficult it is to deal with a complicated legal system, especially for those who cannot afford legal representation. With this project, I hope we can make a difference."
In a message to Columbia Law School Dean David Schizer, Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University , hailed the new partnership. "The work of the Columbia University must be tied to the work done in our neighborhoods. This partnership illustrates how an effective collaboration with elected officials and community based organizations can give voice to those with the greatest need."
Elected officials, including Rep. Charles Rangel and New York state Sen. Eric Schneiderman were on hand to celebrate Navarro's appointment and the creation of the new service. "My office gets hundreds of calls from people who desperately need legal help with immigration problems," Sen. Schneiderman said. "Ultimately we need to change the immigration laws to make them more just and humane, but in the meantime there are thousands of people who can't afford legal assistance to deal with the system that's in place, and that's the need that we're going to start addressing with this clinic."
Moises Perez, director of Alianza Dominicana, said, "This program will allow Alianza Dominicana to offer legal advice and representation on immigration cases that go beyond getting legal status to work in the country or to travel to and from the country. This program will now allow us to provide legal support for people under an order to be removed from the country or who are brought up on criminal charges based on immigration violations. This now targets needed resources to our community. This is work that must be handled by lawyers which we have not had on staff until this grant from Columbia University. It's definitely a win-win-win situation."
This agreement benefits the community, allows Legal Aid and Alianza to expand its services and provides an additional community law partnership for Columbia Law School students to complete their pro bono service requirement.
Columbia is one of only a handful of law schools nationwide that require all students to undertake pro bono work during law school. The mandatory pro bono program grew out of a student initiative and continues to be shaped by student interests and needs as well as by requests by public interest lawyers and organizations. As a result, many students, including first year students, find that the pro bono offerings enrich their law school experience and add relevance to their coursework. Most students perform more than the required 40 hours of service. By 2001, Columbia students had contributed about 100,000 hours of pro bono service since the inception of the requirement in 1993.
According to Dean Schizer, the partnership with Alianza and The Legal Aid Society supports his vision that the Law School work more closely with local communities in which Columbia has its campuses. "This is how Columbia University furthers itself as a good neighbor and provides important work for the students in fulfilling their service requirement."
Janet Sabel, attorney-in-charge of The Legal Aid Society-Immigration Law Unit, explained why the service was so necessary. "With an experienced attorney working with the office, the Coalition and Alianza can expand its services to include removal proceedings."
This project has been two years in the making. It was an idea developed in conjunction with Columbia Law School 2001 graduate Julissa Reynoso, Sen. Schneiderman and Ellen Chapnick, dean of Social Initiatives at Columbia Law School.
Community Employment Program Under Way at Columbia
As part of Columbia's commitment to strengthening ties with the diverse residents and institutions in Upper Manhattan , the University is enhancing its employment practices to improve its ability to hire qualified applicants from the local communities. In the initial phase of this effort, Columbia has embarked on a relationship with Managed Work Services (MWS), which will identify community applicants for positions and, where needed, help prepare them for specific jobs. MWS currently works closely with Columbia managers and therefore understands the work environment. Their assessment and coaching skills enable them to identify candidates and provide targeted support so that each individual can succeed.
MWS has solid connections with community resources as well. It also stays involved after each placement, working with supervisors and employees, providing support and coaching. This fall, MWS has been working with the Columbia departments Facilities, Student Services and Institutional Real Estate and has already placed 15 local residents in positions.
Columbia Human Resources plans to open an Employment Programs Information Center at 3180 Broadway at 125th Street in December, and MWS will have a full-time daily presence there. Simultaneously, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and HR are working together on an innovative program that improves employability. Service Learning in a Community Environment, or SLICE, will introduce local residents to basic technical and workplace skills, such as collaboration, communication, problem solving and project management. Residents learn how to apply basic computer technologies, such as Web design, word processing, spreadsheets and presentation software to actual, client-oriented community projects. Participants use the state-of-the-art Botwinick Gateway Laboratory facility and are part of an engineering design class.