Local nonprofit Pathways to Citizenship is experiencing unprecedented demand for pro bono legal services and tutoring by immigrants from around the world, including Afghan and Ukrainian refugees.
“The demand for reputable legal immigration services has exploded over the last two years,” says Sonya Williams, Pathways’ executive director. “We’re piloting a volunteer attorney program and training a team of talented volunteer interns to help us meet the need for pro bono and low-cost legal representation in our community.”
Bindu, a volunteer attorney representing an Afghan asylum client, says, “Working on [my client]’s case has been both sobering and really rewarding. Heartbreaking story, but it feels so good to know I’m truly making a difference in the life of someone who needs it. A rare opportunity.”
Local volunteers ranging in age from 14 to 82 help citizenship clients learn civics information and improve their English in preparation for their citizenship interviews.
After Pathways helped him file for citizenship in November 2021, new citizen Martin worked with his tutors for more than a year before becoming a citizen. “I am so happy!” Martin says. “I waited 30 years for this moment. I love this country and give thanks every day that I am a citizen.”
Li, an immigrant from China who attended citizenship preparation and English classes for months to prepare for her interview, became a U.S. citizen on International Women’s Day. She came back to the Solana Beach Library to tell her classmates, “I can’t believe it! It is a totally new life. I have more confidence. While driving here I said to myself, ‘I am an American!’ I will do my best for this country, my country.”
Li credits her teachers and volunteer coordinator Alyssa for creating a supportive, comfortable learning environment that was key to her success. She says, “Pathways has the passion. The people here make me feel very safe. They contribute a lot of their time. I am so appreciative and thankful.”
Pathways to Citizenship offers free Citizenship Preparation classes on Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. in the Solana Beach Library, and on Thursdays at 4:45 p.m. in the San Marcos Library. Free English classes are offered on Thursdays at 5:45 p.m. in the Pathways to Citizenship offices on the Solana Beach Presbyterian Church campus. All are welcome to attend.
As Suzanne, one of Li and Martin’s citizenship preparation teachers, says, “If you’re considering volunteering with Pathways, just jump in! Everyone has something to offer. You will learn as much from the students as they learn from you.”
To volunteer, donate, or learn more about Pathways to Citizenship, visit pathwayssd.org.