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Building a Network of Advocates

Professor of Law Michele Pistone, JD, LLM, has spent the past several years designing an innovative online program to train immigrant advocates.


In more than two decades of providing free legal representation to asylum seekers and refugees as part of the Charles Widger School of Law's clinical program, Professor of Law Michele Pistone, JD, LLM, and her law students recognized most of the immigrants at these proceedings did not have legal assistance in the room. 

Professor Pistone spent the past several years designing an innovative solution: the Villanova Interdisciplinary Immigration Studies Training for Advocates (VIISTA) certificate program.

Offered through Villanova’s College of Professional Studies starting this fall, the new online interdisciplinary educational and training program will provide graduates with the eligibility to apply to become Department of Justice “accredited representatives.” This accreditation authorizes them to provide low-cost legal representation to migrant and refugee families.

“Immigrant advocates model a new way forward to revolutionize the provision of legal services,” says Professor Pistone, founder and faculty director of VIISTA. Earlier this year, she was one of 10 winners of the J.M.K. Innovation Prize—a national award presented biennially to nonprofit and mission-driven for-profit organizations tackling America’s most pressing challenges through social innovation.

2019 J.M.K. Innovation Prize Awardee Prof. Michele Pistone Explains the Goal of the VIISTA Program