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Community Engagement Incentive Grant: Karla McKanders

Immigrant Legal Literacy: Empowering the Community One Person at a Time

Karla McKanders, associate professor of law at the University of Tennessee, worked in tangent with El Centro Hispano of East Tennessee-Knoxville to provide free legal immigration consultation through the for immigrant community in the Knoxville area.

The legal consultation clinics provided informative sessions on foreign policies that directly affected members of the foreign-born community. McKanders said it is a social obligation of the legal community to help foreign-born individuals understand their immigration status and what pathways they must take to legalize that status.

Karla McKanders

Karla McKanders

“The growing foreign-born population in Knoxville is in constant need of educational programs,” said McKanders. “One of the biggest obstacles we faced was getting enough community attorneys to volunteer for the clinics.”

The Lonsdale community was specifically targeted as having a significant Latino population in need of immigration consultation. Centro Hispano was essential in mediating between the needs of these clients, connecting them to the clinic, and bridging language barriers.

The clinics were conducted on Saturdays at the Lincoln Memorial Duncan School of Law and Lonsdale Elementary School. A number of law professors and students provided pro bono attorney work for the clinic, and many other other volunteers offered administration, logistics and interpreter assistance.

McKanders said the underlying educational objective was to enhance the cultural competence and capacity for UT law students, making them better lawyers and better citizens. She emphasized the growing need for law students to practice in a diverse and multilingual environment.

“[Clinical students]  learn to interact with cultures that are different from their own,” Mckanders said. “As our society becomes more diverse, law students need to learn the necessary skills to make them culturally competent.”

The partnership is a mutually beneficial one.  While UT students gain a greater understanding of global citizenship, McKanders pointed out that a greater navigational understanding of the American legal system  helps the foreign-born community better understand their own individual rights and the rights of their families.

“We were able to reach out to the Latino community,” said McKanders. “We were able to provide free immigration legal clinics to the foreign-born popular and provide law students with exposure to legal immigration issues.”

centre hispano de E. Tenn.

Project Report: Immigrant Legal Literacy: Empowering the Community One Person at a Time