Written by Amanda Gregory, Legal & Policy Program Manager at Michigan Community Resources
“This is frustrating for the organizations, because often the filing fee is all that is standing in the way of these immigrants working legally.”
Several years ago, the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center wanted to create a “fee bank” pilot project to allow their immigration legal clients to borrow money for the required government filing fees. These fees are usually hundreds to thousands of dollars and, for some types of applications, they cannot be waived. This is frustrating for the organizations, because often the filing fee is all that is standing in the way of these immigrants working legally. Through the years, these organizations watched dozens of clients languishing who were eligible for status but just didn’t have the government filing fee to move forward.
Susan Reed at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center said, “Being a lawyer, I knew banking involved a bunch of laws, but that’s about all I knew, so we asked Michigan Community Resources to find us banking lawyers to help. They connected us to Mara McNeill from Honigman who helped ensure compliance and assisted us in drafting our promissory notes […] as a pro bono project. Blue Ox Credit Union in Battle Creek agreed to service the loans for us at no cost.”
The Michigan Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights hosts the loan program and is formally the lender. Member organizations of MCIRR can nominate their clients for loans as long as they are providing legal services at no cost to the client. They have made four loans to date, and the first loan was repaid in full well ahead of schedule! That client now has immigration status through the DACA program!
MCR’s Pro Bono Legal Referral Program can connect hard-working nonprofit organizations with expert attorneys willing to volunteer their time.
Since 1998, Community Legal Resources’ Pro Bono Legal Referral Program, a part of Michigan Community Resources (MCR), has connected hundreds of nonprofits with volunteer attorneys to provide free legal assistance. With over 91 volunteer attorneys in 2015, we were able to provide our partners with approximately 3000 hours of pro bono service. It is the only pro bono legal referral program in Michigan focused on transactional work for nonprofits. To date, we have provided over 15 million dollars in pro bono services.
The attorneys who volunteer through this program tackle a broad range of legal concerns including contracts, real estate/real property, intellectual property (trademark, trade secret, and copyright), employment, tax, 501(c)(3) reinstatement, fiscal sponsorship and fundraising, joint ventures, dissolution and more!
In addition to direct referrals for pro bono services, MCR produces high-quality legal publications, tools, workshops and eLearning modules aimed at serving the legal needs of our nonprofit clients. Some of our most popular publications include our legal guide to Crowdfunding for Nonprofits and our Employment Law Manual (currently being updated). MCR is also updating its groundbreaking Community Land Trusts (CLT) Manual, which has been used statewide by nonprofits interested in this unique tool for neighborhood revitalization.
Nonprofits, like businesses, face many legal requirements. Michigan Community Resources is here to help! We understand that dealing with legal issues and lawyers can be intimidating. For nonprofit organizations on a shoestring budget, the prospect can be so unnerving that dealing with important legal issues might be avoided all together. MCR’s Pro Bono Legal Referral Program can connect hard-working nonprofit organizations with expert attorneys willing to volunteer their time. It is easy to apply. Just visit our website and fill out an application.
Michigan Community Resources (MCR) is a nonprofit organization that works to drive policy change, connect and improve systems that impact quality of life and the economy in low income communities, and bring a voice to those who have not been heard. A long-time partner of CEDAM, we work together to share programs and services that would benefit our members and clients.