Posted on April 7, 2011
Iqbal needed a good lawyer. His work permit had been discontinued, and he was under such stringent supervision by US Citizenship and Immigration Services that he probably couldn’t have held a job anyway. Thirty years earlier, he left Bangladesh on a student visa, but the onset of mental illness and a series of misfortunes left him vulnerable and with four misdemeanors on his record.
He had always been a hard worker, holding jobs even during a protracted stint of homelessness, but, held back by his past, he wasn’t able to make the life he wanted for himself. He says, “I had seen the bottom on the streets, and I didn’t want that to be my future. I wanted to be a participant in society. I didn’t want to be left out.” He pursued legal counsel, but after two years, his attorney had made no headway on the case.
Enter the Fountain House Law Collective. The Law Collective was created to connect Fountain House members with quality pro bono legal representation. More than a referral service, staff and members who volunteer with the Law Collective perform many of the tasks a paralegal would, allowing the attorneys involved to spend their time more efficiently. To date, more than 20 members have received legal assistance through the Law Collective, mostly in matters of simple bankruptcy, filing for relief of past offenses, and immigration.
“The normal routes for seeking free representation have been severely affected by budget cuts. Waiting lists are quickly growing, and some members have reported the quality of care has greatly diminished,” remarked staff advisor Susan Leiblich. “We’re trying to help members resolve legal matters that are affecting the progress of their lives.”
Iqbal’s second attorney, Stan, worked diligently on his behalf. He argued persuasively that Iqbal’s legal difficulties arose during a time when he was homeless and didn’t have a hold of his behavior. And he convinced the court. This month, all of Iqbal’s supervision ceased, and he’s now eligible to apply for a work permit.
He reflects, “I’m at a point in my life where I wonder, ‘What will I do with myself? How productive will I be? What will society think of me?’” He’s finally in a position to realize the possibilities.
Do you want to volunteer with the Law Collective? Fountain House is looking for all types of lawyers to represent members. We’re recognized by the New York State Bar Association and can provide a letter for pro bono hours.