BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The refugee population in Buffalo is ever-growing, with many fleeing their home countries and looking to the Queen City to safety. 600 are currently in the process of seeking asylum, but the clock is ticking.
"After the fall of Afghanistan, these people were evacuated by the U.S. government. These were people who were helping the American government in our time in Afghanistan, people who were translating or actually going on missions. So they can't really go back," said Gretchen Gonzalez, CEO/Executive Director of the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project.
These families arrived to U.S. military bases in August, but because of delays, didn't get to Buffalo until the winter. Now they need legal help to be able to stay.
"The issue is there is a very strict one year filing deadline for asylum cases and that clock started counting from when they set foot on the military bases in August or September of 2021," said Gonzalez.
So there's less than three months to file 300 cases for families. Providing this help for free is what VLP is all about, but they can't do it alone.
"This is a pretty herculean task. We've got a training together on how to file asylum cases," said Gonzalez.
Hodgson Russ has signed on for 20 cases, but they're reaching out to local attorneys to help out, no matter what kind of law they practice.
"I've never worked on an asylum case before, this is my first chance to really make an impact, it's really important work to help these families," said Meghan Carrig, Associate Attorney with Hodgson Russ.
VLP will talk to anyone about the process and provide hands on mentoring through every step of the process. It's intensive work that takes time and a translator, but these families are hopeful.
"I've talked to people who were doctors, dentists, law students. They're people who really just want to work and get involved in our community and start a new chapter in their lives," said Peter John Ciotta, New American Immigration Legal Assistant with IIB.
It's all hands on deck to meet this deadline and if you want to volunteer, you can speak to Maria Valeri at (716) 847-0662 x321.
If you're not a lawyer and want to help, VLP has a fundraiser coming up on June 15 at AcQua from 5-9pm, $30 per ticket.