by Sue Smith
LUCHA’s immigration legal services program is an essential ministry for low-income immigrants and refugees in our community.
Beginning in February, as more and more persons became concerned about the ability to pay for immigration-related appointments, LUCHA Ministries made the decision to waive our fees. Many of the families we serve were negatively affected by COVID-19 and struggling to pay even our modest costs for immigration legal services. We didn’t want to cause them additional financial hardships — or cause their immigration process to be delayed!
Thanks to our awesome supporters, we have been able to waive the charges for 62 low-income clients during 2020 (an average cost of $125/person) — and still cover our programming costs! And we plan to continue offering pro bono services throughout the remainder of 2020.
Our services offer a significant savings for our low-income clients, and provide them with access to quality legal services that is often unaffordable with private immigration attorneys.
One Central American family of four, all asylees who are applying for Legal Permanent Residency (“Green Card”) status, received pro bono legal services to process their applications to adjust status. Neither parent was working due to COVID-19, and even LUCHA’s basic fees for low-income individuals would have been difficult for this family. LUCHA’s regular charges would have been $450 for all four, which is less than 10% of the estimated $5,200 cost using a private immigration attorney.
Our staff also helps low-income clients apply for fee waivers from the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services), which resulted in additional savings of $4,425 for this family. Essentially, LUCHA was able to help this unemployed family not only apply for Green Cards, but save nearly $10,000 in the process!
Our legal services program began in 2016 with approval from the Department of Justice as a Recognized Organization and authorized provider of Legal Services. This DOJ program allows churches and non-profit organizations to provide legal services through a qualified Accredited (non-attorney) Representative. One of the requirements of the program is that our fee structure is “nominal”, or a fraction of the cost of what an immigration attorney would charge.
LUCHA Ministries embraces a holistic approach to service delivery. As we get to know families through one specific program area, we often discover other needs. We may discover legal services clients who may need food or emergency assistance grants, and clients receiving food assistance or benefitting from case management services may have questions about an immigration case.
And perhaps most importantly in our ministry, we listen. Counseling and pastoral care services are offered in Spanish, and we often offer to pray with clients regarding a particular concern or need.
Our model has been particularly effective during these difficult times of COVID-19. We’ve been able to talk with persons about their immigration status, identify those who are unemployed and need a short-term emergency grant or food assistance, or just simply need to talk with someone about the emotional distress and stress they are feeling.
As we go into the colder winter months, we will continue to focus on the basics: caring for immigrants by providing for crisis needs, including food, emergency funds for housing or medications, etc., and by being present and listening.