International Rescue Committee (IRC)

IRC in Baltimore Enters Seventh Year of Green Card Workshops

Three times a year, the Baltimore office of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) holds free workshops to help eligible refugees and asylees apply for their permanent residency.

The project started in 2005 as a collaboration between case workers at the Baltimore IRC, the American Friends Service Committee, several local area Immigration attorneys, and the Maryland Office of Refugees and Asylees. 
 
The project brings together several partners, including the Baltimore Orientation Center’s Community Interpreter program, volunteers from the Episcopal Refugee Alliance (ERICA), and local law schools - at the University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore.

“A local university has allowed us to use their computer lab every year, but this month we will hold our workshop at a community center within walking distance of the applicants,” stated Paul Chandler, IRC Immigration Program Assistant.  “We hope this will make it possible for more applicants to participate.”

Paul Chandler and Rachel Mogga, the Immigration Program team at the IRC in Baltimore, have coordinated workshops from 2005 to present. They also held a Citizenship workshop, but continue to recognize the wide need for pro-bono support for adjustment of status.

Ruben Chandrasekar, the Executive Director of the IRC in Baltimore, started the program in 2005.  At that time Ruben was Program Director of the Baltimore office of the American Friends Service Committee’s immigrant rights project. Ruben and Pat Hatch, who was then Program Manger of the Maryland Office for Refugees and Asylees (MORA), were concerned that Asylees applying for Permanent Residency experienced significant delays in processing time. Ruben states, “The IRC in Baltimore is very excited that over the past 7 years, this collaborative effort has helped more than 500 applicants adjust their status and get them on the path toward U.S. citizenship. Many refugees and asylees have told me that once they received their Green Card, they finally felt that their years of transient living had come to an end, and that the U.S. became a place they could proudly call “home.”

Refugees who live in the US for one year are required to apply for permanent residency. Asylees are encouraged to apply, though it is not mandatory.  Permanent Residency is essential for a refugee’s continued legal status, eligibility for benefits, continued work authorization, and right to obtain U.S. citizenship.   Helping refugees adjust their status is critical for their long-term sustainability in the U.S. However, as many refugees are unable to afford legal resources, this project seeks to help the most vulnerable subsets of the refugee population:  the elderly, disabled, victims of domestic violence, and families facing economic hardship. 

At the workshops, local area law students meet with applicants, under the supervision of local area immigration attorneys. 

“I enjoyed meeting other volunteers from Baltimore, both students and Immigration attorneys,” stated Kowsar Gowhari, a student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, who volunteered at workshops in March and in August.  “I definitely want to volunteer for a workshop again.”

The next Green Card workshop will be October 27th, for more information, please contact paul.chandler@rescue.org