By Paul Natinsky
Legal help with immigration issues has been a longstanding need within the Chaldean community, and the Chaldean Community Foundation (CCF) has long provided legal help on immigration issues to those who need it. Family Law and Landlord Tenant Law are emerging as needed services within the community and CCF is rising to the occasion.
The CCF kicked off an expanded pro bono legal assistance program at its Sterling Heights headquarters on March 22 with a luncheon that drew about 40 area attorneys as well as veteran Judge Diane Dickow D’Agostini, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Hala Jarbou, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Lisa Gorcyka, and Supreme Court Justice David Viviano.
The judges explained the need for expanded legal assistance and urged attending attorneys to take on one case each, said the foundation’s COO Paul Jonna. He said the luncheon was a huge success, estimating that 25 attorneys signed on for pro bono cases. Prior to the luncheon, he said three to five attorneys were taking immigration pro bono cases and other areas of need were unmet.
Founded in 2006, the CCF is the non-profit arm of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce that began as a way for the Chaldean community to help those displaced by the Iraq War. Jonna said the non-profit expected to serve about 400 during its first year, but ended up helping about 4,000. That number is up to about 31,000 at present.
To organization enjoys generous support from government and foundation grants as well as private donations. Jonna said construction is underway on a 19,000-square-foot expansion to the current 12,000 square-foot facility. He added that a 135-unit subsidized housing project is in the works.
Typical clients are new Americans who live in the area. Most, about 85 percent, are Chaldean, but services are open to all comers,” said Jonna. Clients connect with CCF mainly through word of mouth. The organization is well known in the community and by police, firefighters and school officials. The foundation also has a formal outreach program and uses newsletters and social media to build awareness of its services.
Clients come in on walk-in days, take a number and connect with a caseworker who does an assessment. Jonna said many who come in with an issue do not realize they need legal help until they have gone through the foundation’s intense intake system.
Jonna said Attorneys on staff at the CCF provide help with immigration law. He said the complex immigration cases require pro bono help from outside attorneys. However, the CCF does not have any attorneys on staff for Family Law or Landlord Tenant help, which spurred the drive to make the pro bono program more formal and reach out to area attorneys. Jonna said it is possible that at some point legal help beyond immigration will be offered within the foundation.
There is no date for a second date scheduled, yet, however there is one in the works for a few months from now.
“We’re absolutely amazed at the great response from the Chaldean attorneys in our community,” he said. “It’s remarkable to see them providing these well-needed services to people who are really in need. We are appreciative of all of the things they are doing working with the Chaldean Community Foundation. We hope that more attorneys will join on.”