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Legal Aid Merger Affects Undocumented Immigrants

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By Mana Rabiee

A new merger of Virginia's two largest legal aid societies means some who once qualified for free legal advice will have to go elsewhere.

At the Arlington branch of Legal Services of Northern Virginia -- or LSNV -- a paralegal helps a client with his court warrant.

The organization just merged with the Potomac Legal Aid Society.

The restructuring means LSNV will now get federal funding but guidelines prohibit the money from being used to assist undocumented immigrants.

Andrea Bridgeman was President of Potomac Legal. She says it's unclear how many people LSNV will turn away.

"They didn't ask questions about citizenship or residency or so on so it was always difficult to get a grip on which of their clients would not be eligible for federal service," says Bridegman.

A spokesman for the quasi-governmental organization that now funds LSNV says he doesn't believe any undocumented immigrants will go unassisted because plans are underway to refer those people to a separate organization.

Bridgeman questions whether the organization will have the resources to service all of them.

Back in Arlington, the paralegal translates for her client who does qualify under the merger but wonders where he would go if didn't.

"I don't know, I don't know my options. I don't know maybe where I could go," he says.

The LSNV will continue to service victims of domestic violence no matter what their immigration status might be.

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