Pro Bono Helping Hands

Pro Bono Helping Hands
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Ali Khayre and his daughter Fartun came to Legal Aid for help with acquiring citizenship. Ali cares for his disabled daughter, who needs Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to pay for her monthly living expenses.

Legal Aid must turn away over half of all eligible callers because of limited resources. The Immigration Unit relies on volunteers like Ann Gemmell, Vice President of Enrollment at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, and Maria Miller, a private immigration attorney at Martin Law, to pick up some cases like Khayre’s.

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“This case was compelling because Fartun is among the most vulnerable in our community and her father, Ali, had his own challenges to contend with,” says Gemmell, who hopes her work in admissions can help students take their first steps toward pro bono work. “Their financial assistance was ending, and this made their case not just compelling, but urgent.”

I came from a refugee camp and suffer from medical issues … I have a loss of memory and nightmares, and I have to take melatonin and probiotics.”

Ali and Fartun needed help with the N-648 form, which provides an exception in the citizenship application process for those with physical or developmental disabilities or mental impairments. The N-648 was extremely important for Ali, and in his hearing to legitimize the request, he had to answer a grueling set of questions.

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“I came from a refugee camp and suffer from medical issues,” Ali explained in his hearing. “I have a loss of memory and nightmares, and I have to take melatonin and probiotics.”

Gemmell filed first for Ali. If he gained citizenship, he could become his daughter’s legal representative. Next, Gemmell filed for Fartun’s citizenship so she could gain her own benefits.

“This was a hard case,” says Gemmell. “We had to gather lots of information and time the applications just right in order to give them the best chance for success. Ali’s citizenship interview was one of the more challenging ones I’ve witnessed, so his citizenship felt particularly hard-won.”

Ali became a citizen in March, and then COVID-19 hit and Fartun’s application was at a standstill. Ali was able to re-establish SSI with only a month lost, but Fartun lost her April social security payment.

“All of this reminded me of the precarious situation many in our community face due to the virus.” Gemmell observed.

The case finally moved on. Gemmell was not able to continue, so Miller stepped in to back her up. Legal Aid ensured the transition from one attorney to another was smooth with help from Legal Assistant Fathia Warsame, who served as interpreter and translator throughout the process.

“Fartun’s father clearly cares very much about her and it was touching to see how concerned he was that she be granted citizenship,” Miller acknowledges. “Due to her disability, she is unable to speak for herself. Her father is truly a wonderful and dedicated advocate.”

Fartun has gained U.S. Citizenship, and Legal Aid is helping her to obtain SSI benefits.

“I am approaching the one-year mark of being a citizen and I am happy to have benefits for my daughter and I.” Ali states. “The attorneys did an excellent job working with both of our citizenship cases, and now Legal Aid is helping with the pending SSI case for my daughter.”

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