Free immigration law clinic in Madison swamped - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Free immigration law clinic in Madison swamped

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MADISON (WKOW) -- President Trump's latest plans for undocumented immigrants have immigration lawyers in Madison getting ready for a rush of people looking for help.

The Community Immigration Law Center, which holds free clinics twice a month at Christ Presbyterian Church in Madison, has already been swamped with questions from immigrants and their families, some who don't know whether they have the proper documentation.    

"It's a really long, super complicated process," says Grant Sovern, an immigration attorney who volunteers his time as president of the program. "A lot of people think if you're here illegally it's because you didn't follow the process, just file the documents and get it, but it's not like that at all. It's almost impossible to immigrate to the U.S. anymore."

Sovern tells 27 News the biggest question right now is how the orders are going to be enforced and who could be at risk.

Legal experts tell us it's hard to say just how many undocumented people are in Wisconsin, but the immigrant community makes up a large part of our state's workforce. In fact, more than half of workers in the dairy industry are undocumented immigrants.

The center is expecting to get a lot more calls or visits for help at the next clinic, which is scheduled for Friday afternoon. The free legal help has seen double the business since the president's first executive orders on immigration last month.

Jean-Rene Watchou helped start the effort in Madison. He came to the U.S. from Cameroon 17 years ago, but it took him 11 years to become a citizen. His experience with the complicated immigration process inspired him to help other immigrants. The Community Immigration Law Center started in 2009 and now has an 11-member board and 16 volunteer lawyers working to help people understand their status.

Watchou says many people are afraid to even come in for help.

"The fact that I'm the face of the program inspires a lot of people, I'm always willing to share my own story, people identify with me and so that gives them an incentive to come and participate," he tells 27 News.

Watchou also works at the church as director of international outreach, working to help foreign students coming to Madison connect with the community. He says he just wants to give back to people who need help.

There are a lot of unknowns regarding the president's latest order, which could impact 11 million people in the U.S., and Sovern has seen the uncertainty fueling a lot of concern. He says under the order it's likely more undocumented immigrants facing deportation won't have the chance to go in front of a judge to look at their papers, which is a right granted now.

The Community Immigration Law Center has been so busy and anticipates to be even more swamped in the coming weeks, so leaders are looking to hire a full time immigration attorney to focus on helping people with their citizenship questions. First, they have to raise money, so they're asking for any donations.

The clinic will be open Friday, February 24 from 2-5 p.m. Click here for more information on the services.

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