Pro Bono Immigration Clinic offers free legal aid to local immigrants



The Pro Bono Immigration Clinic is comprised of Wichita State students who give free legal aid to local immigrants. Sandrine Lisk (third from right) advises the group and is a local immigration attorney.

Wichita State students are working with local members of the immigrant community to help them navigate the immigration process. The Wichita Pro Bono Immigration Clinic offers free legal advice, case management, interpreter services, and assistance with paperwork and trial preparation.

Freshman Nicole Bloomquist is the clinic’s co-president and an intern at the Immigration Law and Advocacy Center. She said the clinic offers a much-needed service to the community.

 “There’s a lot of people who can’t afford legal representation,” Bloomquist said. “The point is for us as college students to both learn about the immigration system, but also help others who need the help.”

 Bloomquist said there are many difficulties for immigrants looking to navigate the immigration system in the U.S. The biggest challenges for immigrants are finding the legal help that they need and being able to afford it, she said. She also said combating the perpetual changes that the Trump administration makes to the immigration process poses problems.

 “They’re making forms longer, and they’re making fees more expensive for them,” Bloomquist said. “It’s also just the logistics of finding help as well.”

 If a person is seeking asylum, they do have to go to court and explain to a judge why they’re seeking asylum, said freshman Hannah Ezell, a clinic board member and caseworker. Ezell is also a videographer for The Sunflower.

 “Are you truly in danger? You have to verify it, and it’s almost impossible to do without the help of a lawyer,” Ezell said. “I think that this administration has sent a clear message that immigrants aren’t always welcome, and it can be very hard — especially if you have like income barriers in place, to actually find legal representation.”

 The Pro Bono clinic formed last semester with the intent of providing free help to the immigrant community in Wichita, Bloomquist said.

 Sofia Gilkeson, a senior political science major, was a driving force behind getting the clinic up and running. In 2019, she was working as an intern for Wichita immigration attorney Sandrine Lisk, and got hands-on experience with an asylum case under Lisk’s advisement.

 She said Lisk drafted the clinic’s constitution and acts as an advisor to clinic workers. Gilkeson did the majority of the paperwork and heavy lifting in terms of getting the clinic approved as a registered student organization at WSU.

 “I wanted to be a service to the community. But really, I wanted to make known to the rest of Wichita State students, like, ‘Hey, you can take an active role in helping people that are in need within our community,’” Gilkeson said.

 Gilkeson said WSU students have been eager to get involved.

 “I was surprised to find out that there are a lot of people, a lot of Wichita State students that are super interested in becoming immigration lawyers,” she said. “So it was perfect.”

 Gilkeson said that in its first semester, the clinic served about 13 clients. The hardest thing about that work, she said, was that none of those cases have come to completion yet. The most rewarding part of the work was forming relationships with fellow clinic members, Gilkeson said.

 Currently, Gilkeson is in Washington, D.C. interning with the National Migrant Seasonal Head Start Association. She graduates in May, so she’s passed the clinic’s responsibility on to younger students such as Bloomquist and Ezell.

 They help immigrants fill out forms and required documentation for the government and provide translation services whenever possible. They also connect local immigrants to other human services and legal aid in the region, Bloomquist and Ezell said.

 Bloomquist said there are many factors that make the immigration system difficult. One way the clinic serves immigrants is by helping them prepare for their immigration cases.

 “They have to know the specific dates — exactly when they left their country, exactly where and when they entered the U.S., why they did all of this — the exact reasons,” Bloomquist said.

 Without proper preparation, people making their cases can get themselves into trouble quickly.

 Ezell said the other issue has to do with basic comprehension and the ability to properly answer questions when immigrants don’t speak or understand English well. Recently, Ezell was working with a man who is applying for U.S. citizenship. She said his English wasn’t great.

 “When filling out his citizenship application, I had to say all the questions really slowly in English so that he could respond in English,” Ezell said. “In his interview for citizenship, it’s going to have to be in English, and he’s going to have to know how to say it.”

 She said helping him file the application and get through the question and answer process was rewarding.

 For now, the clinic could use the services of more lawyers and translators, the two students said. If you’d like to get involved or refer someone to the clinic for help, they can be reached at 316-262-6323.

 To listen to the interview with Bloomquist and Ezell, check out The Sunflower News Podcast at