Villanova University now offers a first-of-its-kind online law certificate for legal advocates who defend immigrants in court.
The Pennsylvania university’s College of Professional Studies has launched the “Villanova Interdisciplinary Immigrations Studies Training for Advocates” (VIISTA) to train immigrant advocates to represent migrants and refugees in court.
So far, 40 students have enrolled in the online learning program developed by professor Michele Pistone, who researches immigration, asylum and refugee law, legal and clinical education, and Catholic social thought.
“Immigrant advocates model a new way forward to revolutionize the provision of legal services, akin to nurse practitioners in healthcare,” Pistone says.
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Trained advocates who work for nonprofit organizations can represent immigrants in immigration court proceedings and before the Department of Homeland Security.
There are only 2,070 accredited representatives nationwide—less than 300 of whom are fully accredited to represent individuals in court, Villanova says.
Migrants are not entitled to court-appointed lawyers in the U.S., and six out of 10—many of them children—enter the immigration system without a lawyer, the university says.
Migrants are 12 times more likely to be granted asylum or other relief from the courts if they have an advocate, according to The Vera Institute, a nonprofit that advocates equality in the legal system.
Villanova also finds that:
- At least 60% of immigrant women and children would be eligible for asylum or another form of humanitarian relief if they had legal representation
- 87% of immigrant children with lawyers in New York City win their cases; children without lawyers win only 19% of the time.
- Only 2% of unrepresented immigrants inNew York City were granted relief.
- 37% of all immigrants secured legal representation in their deportation proceedings.
Villanova’s program consists of three, 14-week modules that prepare advocates to become partially or fully accredited representatives, respectively.
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