However, there are barriers that make navigation more difficult, at times seemingly impossible.
The Vietnamese community has experienced such difficult navigation, whether it is due to a lack of services, not having enough money to hire an attorney or not having enough English skills to seek help on their own.
Fortunately, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) is collaborating with the Orange County Superior Court (OCSC) to help change that. By partnering with the OCSC, APALC Staff Attorney Ngọc Nguyền will extend the court’s Self-Help services in Vietnamese to the community.
Everyone has a right to an attorney, but for people who do not have the financial means to hire an attorney, we all have the right to represent ourselves in our legal matters. This project helps a person to represent themselves in their divorce as well as other actions.
The services are completely free, with no income eligibility requirements to qualify. There are only two requirements: attendees must reside in Orange County and they must not have an attorney. Though, Attorney Nguyễn cannot provide legal advice or counsel attendees on legal strategy, her job is to provide all the necessary legal information to allow self-represented litigants to make their own educated decisions.
“Self-representing is not a well-known concept in the community,” Attorney Nguyễn told the Viễn Đông, adding that the reason may be that resources such as the court’s Self-Help Center are not known to the community. Even if they are known, the community may not have enough English skills to be able to access them.
“It’s part of empowering the community,” Attorney Nguyễn said about the legal information she offers the community. “Language barriers should not prevent a person from accessing the justice system. The need is there, the services are available and completely free. I encourage the Vietnamese community to help themselves and utilize the services.”
Divorce workshops in Vietamese
As part of the APALC and OCSC collaboration, Attorney Nguyễn holds a Self-Help Family Law Workshop every Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. at the Lamoreaux Justice Center, the family law courthouse in Orange. She helps people who speak Vietnamese and are not represented by an attorney to file for divorce, legal separation, or nullity of marriage.
“We assist them from start to finish,” Attorney Nguyễn told the Viễn Đông.
Attendees can learn about the divorce process, receive help filling out forms, receive valuable information about family law basics, understand their rights and be assisted in all the steps necessary to complete their divorce case.
The workshop is by appointment only. All interested attendees must call (800) 267-7395 to reserve a seat.
Outside of Wednesday weekly divorce workshops, Attorney Nguyễn is available twice each week at two local courthouses to assist Vietnamese community members in self-representation ranging from family law and civil law matters.
Every Tuesday Attorney Nguyễn is at the Self-Help Center at Lamoreaux Justice Center (341 The City Drive, Orange, CA 92868) from 8:30-12pm and 1:30-5pm, assisting with issues such as: divorce, legal separation, nullity of marriage, child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, parentage action (establishing a legal parental relationship between unmarried parents to deal with custody and visitation and/or child support, etc.), domestic violence, guardianship, name change and other family law issues.
No appointment is necessary and services are offered on a first come, first serve basis.
Every Thursdays, she is at the Self-Help Center at West Justice Center (8141 13th Street, Westminster, CA 92683) from 8:30-12pm and 1:30-5pm, assisting Vietnamese community members with issues such as: unlawful detainers (eviction), criminal expungement, small claims (suing for an amount under $7,500), civil harassment, traffic (including appeals), and other civil issues.
Again, no appointment is necessary and services are offered on a first come, first serve basis.
Free family law workshop and legal clinic in October
As October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, APALC will be hosting a family law workshop and legal clinic on Saturday, 29 October 2011 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Garden Grove Community Center located on 11300 Stanford Avenue, Garden Grove, CA 92842.
The workshop will provide information on the basics of family law as well as information on domestic violence. The free legal clinic will be staffed with family law attorneys who attendees will be able to consult with. This is a free event and APALC invites the community to come out and learn about family law and domestic violence. To register for the workshop, contact (800) 267-7395.
Naturalization and Immigration Program launch
Additionally, APALC has two programs for Vietnamese community members who need help with naturalization and immigration.
Attaining citizenship is fundamental to achieving the American dream, APALC Community Legal Advocate Ms. Quỳnh Phạm told the Viễn Đông.
The first program is APALC’s citizenship application clinic, hosted at its downtown Los Angeles office. This clinic helps lawful permanent residents (LPRs) apply for American citizenship. At the clinics, APALC staff and trained volunteers help Vietnamese community members verify their citizenship eligibility, complete naturalization applications, and provide information and educational materials to prepare for their citizenship interviews.
APALC also helps applicants determine whether they are eligible for a waiver of the citizenship application fee, which is $680 for applicants under 75 years of age and $595 for applications 75 and older.
Ms. Phạm told the Viễn Đông that there are multiple reasons Vietnamese community members might be reluctant to obtain citizenship: the application exposes complete history, some applicants have criminal histories, some applicants experience language barriers, and more.
Yet, having naturalization and immigration workshops and clinics in the Vietnamese language can help Vietnamese community members who wish to obtain citizenship, have the confidence to work toward doing so.
The clinics are held on the 1st and 3rd Fridays of every month from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm. They are held at APALC,
. A $10 service fee is charged to applicants. Appointments are required and may be made by calling APALC at (213) 977-7500. 1145 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90017
When an appointment is made, APALC will provide the applicant with a list of materials and information that he/she should bring to the clinic. This helps to shave off a lot of the time spent at the workshop, since the person is already prepared.
Applicants are typically asked to bring two passport-style photos, a copy of their green card, and their passports. If they want to apply for a fee waiver, they should also bring documentation that shows that they either are low-income or receive public benefits.
APALC’s other program is its immigration clinic. The clinic is held on the 3rd Thursday of every month at BPSOS in
Westminster. At this program, individuals may speak with APALC attorneys about immigrating family members, visas for tourists and students, citizenship, and other topics.
The clinic is free, but appointments are required and may be made by calling BPSOS at (714) 897-2216. BPSOS is located at
. 9191 Bolsa Ave., #111, Westminster, CA 92683