A Maine legal aid clinic for refugees and immigrants has received a $500,000 grant to continue its work over the next four years.

The grant from the Portland-based Sam L. Cohen Foundation is the largest the Refugee and Human Rights Clinic has received in its five-year history. The foundation also provided seed money when professor Anna Welch launched the clinic at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland in 2012.

The grant will fund Welch’s position as the clinic director for the next four years. Welch said it will also allow her to bring on a student attorney as a summer intern.

“The need for legal aid for Maine’s immigrants is high,” Welch said in a press release. “Many of our clients have been subjected to abuse, persecution, and torture in their home countries. They need help with asylum claims, work permits, and many other humanitarian matters. Without a lawyer they have little chance at winning their cases.”

The students handle 20 to 25 cases each year.

Welch said interest in the clinic has increased since the presidential election last fall.

“Since we learned of the election results in November, we’ve gotten a lot of calls from people quite terrified about what that means for them and their future in the United States,” Welch said in an interview. “I’ve noticed if not on a daily, then every other day, I’m getting inquiries from people seeking assistance. Prior to the Trump election, I would get one a week.”

The clinic also runs training sessions on legal rights for immigrants at Hope Gateway, Preble Street Teen Center, Sacred Heart and other community organizations. It has published a “How to Apply for Asylum” manual with the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project.

“We’re grateful for the ongoing support of the Cohen Foundation, which has been crucial to the development of the RHRC,” Maine Law Dean Danielle Conway said in a press release. “For a law school that is committed to delivering justice and preparing graduates to make a positive difference in their communities, the clinic is at the very heart of our mission.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327.

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