Attorney who became US citizen after law school now provides pro bono help to immigrants
Dahlia French has prioritized pro bono throughout her career.
She helps immigrants who qualify for Temporary Protected Status and foreign nationals who need assistance with their taxes. She mentors other immigration attorneys through the American Immigration Lawyers Association. And in the past year, she became one of the most active volunteers on ABA Federal Free Legal Answers, an online platform that launched in 2021 and allows indigent immigrants and asylum-seekers to ask attorneys questions about their cases.
“I remember connecting and opening up the emails for the first time—and there had to be about 25 of them,” says French, who manages her own practice in Lubbock, Texas. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is horrible that there are so many people needing help and not realizing that there are other resources out there.’”
French has answered more than 100 questions on the Federal FLA website, according to the Commission on Immigration, which highlighted French for her work in late March. While questions vary, she says they largely focus on family issues, such as how a U.S. citizen can get a green card for her spouse or support a nephew who entered the country as an unaccompanied minor. Others are about removal proceedings or eligibility requirements for TPS.
In many cases, French adds, people simply need help finding free or low-cost services in their area. It takes her less than 10 minutes to send them that information.
“I like that I can say to people, ‘These are the resources where you’ve got licensed immigration attorneys or [Board of Immigration Appeals] accredited organizations that are here to give you help. Do not use someone who is not licensed. Do not use someone on a website or in your neighborhood,’ ” French says. “When I submit my replies, I always feel good because I feel like I’ve at least got them in the right direction.”
French—who was born in England, lived in Canada and came to the United States for law school—became interested in immigration law after applying for her own citizenship in the early 1990s. For nearly 16 years, she worked in higher education while also maintaining her private practice. She left her last position at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in April 2021, and now focuses solely on complex immigration filings for academics, researchers and physicians; nonresident alien taxation; and federal health law.
As she sought more balance in her life, French says she was drawn to Federal FLA because it allows her to continue her pro bono work in a more manageable way. She encourages other attorneys who want to volunteer but don’t think they have time to also get involved.
“For me, it’s kind of my wind-down thing, and almost every day I check in,” French says. “If you are an attorney who didn’t want to do a lot, only had one or two hours to devote to pro bono, absolutely get on the site.
“If you are an attorney who is fluent in Spanish, absolutely get on the site and just answer the questions that are in the Spanish language. That would be a huge help because those are the questions I have to completely avoid.”
In addition to immigration questions, volunteer attorneys can answer veterans’ questions on Federal FLA. The ABA also continues to operate its original Free Legal Answers program, which allows income-eligible users in 38 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands to ask volunteer attorneys questions about family law, housing and other civil legal issues.
To learn more or sign up for the federal or state programs, visit ABAFreeLegalAnswers.org and select “Attorney Registration.”
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