Community Empowerment Legal Clinic

The VAI Community Empowerment Legal Clinic (CELC) is a full service legal program operated in partnership with the Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA) which not only serves low-income immigrants and refugees on Chicago’s Northside, tackling legal issues and social welfare needs, but also engages community members through advocacy, civic engagement and organizing initiatives. By offering advice, case assistance, know-your-rights workshops, advocacy trainings and other pro bono services, CELC strengthens the diverse community VAI serves in Uptown, Edgewater, Albany Park and the surrounding suburbs.

The CELC is furthering VAI’s mission of achieving equity and ending legal disparities, tackling cultural and institutional barriers underserved immigrant and refugee communities face and developing them into engaged citizens who can impact city and state policies, access educational and economic opportunities, fully exercise legal and civil rights and increase their voice in American society.

What CELC offers in legal aid is free or low-cost representation and assistance open to all regardless of immigration status, language ability or other obstacles to securing legal aid. The CELC legal aid component covers issues ranging from immigration court proceedings, asylum, deportation and family-based petitions, to family law, housing, employment, education, consumer rights and criminal records. Since its founding in July 2017 with generous funding from the Julian Grace Foundation and formal opening in August, the clinic has seen over 400 visitors, a majority of them new immigrant and refugee arrivals including Syrian, Iraqi, Vietnamese, Rohingya, Iranian, Ethiopian, Nigerian and other communities on the Northside. Services are offered in Arabic, Vietnamese, English and Spanish.
The CELC provides a one stop shop for legal services and advocacy for diverse immigrant and refugee communities; CELC’s civic engagement, advocacy and organizing component educates and empowers community members and VAI clients to exercise their civil and legal rights, address local issues, participate in voting and lobbying activities, influence policymaking and become grassroots leaders. 

The CELC is spearheading VAI’s advocacy, legislative and organizing strategy through input from CELC direct legal services and casework, educational programming, volunteer recruitment and workshops coordinated with VAI’s Civic Engagement and Educational Development (CEED) team as well as program coordination and client engagement with the VAI Community Care Program; referrals, legal aid and advocacy planning are also executed in collaboration with CELC’s partner organizations such as the Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA), Syrian Community Network (SCN) and Iraqi Mutual Aid Society (IMAS), along with other stakeholders serving immigrant and refugee communities on Chicago’s Northside.

For more information on scheduling an appointment or participating in the CELC, contact Thuy Mersereau at