The Justice and Mercy Legal Aid Center raised $52,000 during its biggest fundraiser of the year on Dec. 6. Bachus & Schanker sponsored the holiday-themed event featuring food, drinks, live music and auctions, and Rathod Mohamedbhai donated the venue at Laundry on Lawrence.
The nonprofit organization, which provides free legal services to low-income clients, is in the final year of a three-year initiative to expand its services, according to Nikki Koster, JAMLAC’s director of development.
“In 2020, we hope to continue to offer timely and essential services to the immigrant community, especially immigrants who have been victims of violent crime and juvenile immigrants who have been abandoned, neglected or abused,” Koster said. The organization also holds asylum and naturalization workshops to help non-victims obtain legal counsel or pursue immigration matters.
Koster said unexpected changes in policy have created challenges for immigrants and their attorneys. For example, she said, before 2018, an immigrant applying for a U visa for victims of crimes was generally not placed in deportation if the visa wasn’t granted. But now that has changed, “drastically increasing the risk for victims who choose to cooperate with law enforcement and pursue this specific visa,” Koster said.
JAMLAC will also use the money to expand its services to different areas of the law. These might include elder law, bankruptcy and debt negotiation, sealing of records, landlord and tenant issues, tax matters and identity theft cases, among others, according to Koster.
A third goal for JAMLAC’s expansion is to grow its Pro Bono Project, launched in January to pair volunteer attorneys with vulnerable clients. The Pro Bono Project has helped JAMLAC provide full representation beyond its core areas of immigration and family law, and in 2020, the organization aims to have 50 volunteer attorneys take one case each for a low-income client.
The nonprofit has had to turn away 10-15 potential clients each week, according to Koster. “Through our Pro Bono Project and other areas of growth, we hope to decrease this number to five to 10 by the end of 2020,” she added.
Bachus & Schanker has sponsored the annual fundraiser for JAMLAC for 11 years, according to Koster, with planning and support from the Bachus & Schanker Cares Foundation. The money raised this year includes a $15,000 donation match from founding partner Darin Schanker.
— Jessica Folker, [email protected]