PORTLAND, Maine — The Refugee and Human Rights Clinic at the University of Maine School of Law has received a $500,000 grant to offer legal services to immigrants over the next four years.
The money comes from the Sam L. Cohen Foundation of South Portland, which provided the seed money to get the clinic started five years ago and has given some funding each year for its operation. But this is the first year the foundation has underwritten the program’s entire cost — and comes at a time when requests for legal help at the clinic are on the rise, according to a news release announcing the grant.
Since the election of President Donald Trump, and his efforts to remove undocumented immigrants, the clinic has seen more people seeking legal advice — and a rise in the number of students interested in immigration law, said Anna Welch, the Maine law professor who oversees the clinic.
“There is a real sense of urgency, especially in this political environment, with the ongoing debates about refugees and immigrants and their future in America,” Welch said.
The legal work at the clinic is performed by law students under the supervision of Welch, and other law school faculty members. The grant will fund Welch’s position over the next four years.
Since it launched in the fall of 2012, the clinic has provided direct legal assistance to dozens of asylum seekers, unaccompanied immigrant children and other immigrants seeking humanitarian relief in Maine, according to the release. Welch said she did not have exact figures for the number of people the clinic has served since it opened.
“The need for legal aid for Maine’s immigrants is high,” Welch said. “Many of our clients have been subjected to abuse, persecution, and torture in their home countries. They need help with asylum claims, work permits, and many other humanitarian matters. Without a lawyer they have little chance at winning their cases.”
Welch said the grant would allow her and others “to focus on educating students and this vulnerable population we serve without having to spend our time fundraising.”