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Legal Aid for Immigrants

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It’s hard enough to maneuver the court system when you speak the language—but for thousands of immigrants seeking legal help in the U.S., it can be overwhelming. Not to mention, expensive. That’s why advocacy programs have stepped in—free of charge. And just in time. Barry Simmons tells us why. [Español] 

 
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SCRIPT:

(Locator: Grand Rapids, Michigan)

The doors are wide open at First United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan—where a full-time immigration attorney and volunteers guide clients through the confusing immigration process.

Danny Upton, Justice for Our Neighbors: “We help people to become lawful permanent residents. Particularly the most vulnerable immigrants.”

The program, run through The United Methodist Church, is called Justice for Our Neighbors. It seeks to provide immigrants with a clear understanding of their rights—and how to obtain them.

Susan Reed, Justice for Our Neighbors: “Even that information, ‘No, you’re not eligible to apply for permanent residence,’ that’s really empowering, important information for somebody to have. It protects that person.”

As immigration laws have become increasingly complex, JFON clinics have sprouted across the country. This one, which opened in Nashville, Tennessee last year, is the program’s twenty-fifth.

(Locator: Nashville, Tennessee)

Katherine Spry, JFON Volunteer: “I knew that there were people out there who needed a lot of help, but I had no idea how touching it was to hear what they’re having to go through.”

Many who walk through these doors have nowhere else to go. Katherine Esquivel’s client fled here from Guatemala when she was 13 to escape a sexually-abusive father. Now a single mother, she faces deportation—and worries about the abuse that awaits her if she returns.

Katherine Esquivel, Attorney: “What we’re doing today is helping prepare her testimony for that hearing.”

Katherine’s client, like many here, seeks political asylum, a case for which a private attorney would charge well over 10,000 dollars.

Spring Miller, Attorney: “These are cases that if you leave them to the free market will never be picked up by anyone—or they won’t be done well.”

It’s why most in this woman’s position could never dream of staying in America. Now, with help from a few friendly advocates, she at least has hope.

Spring Miller, Attorney: “We’re hopeful and we’re confident that she has a strong claim. We believe in her case and we’ll keep fighting for her.”

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One of the unique features about Justice for Our Neighbors is the element of hospitality. When clients arrive for their appointments, they are often encouraged to sit and eat a meal or snack with the volunteers—and clinics offer childcare as well. It’s this informal interaction that helps to build a bond between the volunteers and clients—even if they don’t speak the same language.

For more information about Justice for Our Neighbors, call 240-450-1186.

Also, see: Immigrants find legal help at clinic

Posted: April 1, 2009