The Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project helps low income immigrants improve their legal status and works for more just and humane laws and policies affecting immigrants.
ILAP began in 1993 as a volunteer lawyer project providing assistance to about two dozen asylum seekers in Maine each year. It was established by founding Executive Director Beth Stickney and Board President Peter Darvin, with the support of many individuals and organizations who believed in ILAP’s mission.
In 2000, ILAP opened its first office on India Street in Portland and hired its first staff attorney, in response to a growing demand for immigration legal aid and new federal funding restrictions that prevented other legal aid organizations in Maine from assisting most immigrants. That same year, ILAP was the first organization in Maine to become a Recognized Organization by the Board of Immigration Appeals. This status allowed ILAP to apply for non-attorney staff to become accredited to represent individuals in their immigration proceedings.
As a staffed organization, ILAP expanded its services to provide a wider range of immigration legal aid to clients throughout the state of Maine, including legal consultations, pro se immigration forms assistance, and full representation in cases including family reunification, citizenship, asylum, deportation defense, and specialized visa applications for unaccompanied minors, and victims of domestic violence, crime and trafficking. ILAP’s Pro Bono Asylum Panel continued, and remains an important component of ILAP’s programming.
In 2005, ILAP expanded its work to include systemic advocacy, recognizing that some clients’ problems could be prevented by helping to change unjust immigration laws and policies. That year, ILAP brought together allies to found the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (MIRC), which has since become its own 501(c)(3) entity and is immigrant-led with more than 50 member organizations across the state. ILAP continues to work along with its allies and MIRC partners on local, state, and federal immigration advocacy efforts.
ILAP has grown as new immigrant communities have come to Maine and have moved to new areas of the state, and as our immigration laws and policies have become more complex and more difficult to navigate without an attorney. ILAP now has offices in Portland and Lewiston and a bimonthly presence in Milbridge. Increased use of technology, volunteers, and education and outreach help ILAP reach more immigrants throughout the state. Each year, ILAP attorneys and legal staff and more than 250 volunteers provide legal assistance to over 3,000 clients, and conduct education and outreach on immigration law issues for about 1,700 people.
Our commitment to social justice underpins our commitment to action. We believe all people, regardless of legal status or country of origin, deserve the opportunity to improve their circumstances. In our work on client cases and on systemic change, we do not waver in our efforts to ensure immigrants are valued and treated justly in our society.
We know having access to legal help greatly improves the outcome in many complex legal cases, so we strive for low barriers to our services. We deploy our resources to serve the most vulnerable individuals in cases where our legal help can have the greatest effect. We share our knowledge of immigration law and processes widely to empower our clients to understand them and to help themselves. When laws and policies are unjust and we can play a role in their change, we work with our advocacy partners to advance causes of justice and equity for all immigrants.
We are honest and trustworthy in what we do and say. We tell the truth, even when it is difficult to hear. We are a trusted and credible resource. We act ethically with clients, government agencies, supporters, policy makers, community partners, the media, and the public. We follow the laws, even when we find laws unjust and hope to change them. We take responsibility for our actions and are deliberate and thoughtful in our pursuit of justice. We use our training and expertise to work hard for successful results for our clients. We do our work with passion, persistence, and heart.
We show courtesy, compassion, and respect for the language, culture, religion, and circumstances of our clients. Respect also permeates our relationship with staff, allies, adversaries, Board, volunteers, and supporters. We are at our best when we work with others to seek broad and diverse input and search for common ground to solve problems. Within our organization, we nurture leadership, share knowledge, recognize contributions, and prize teamwork. We support the well-being of our staff and volunteers, and we encourage and value professional growth.