Immigration Legal Services
There are four main obstacles that immigrants face related to immigration in the United States: direct access to immigration legal services, financial obstacles, preparatory assessment (screening) obstacles, and frequent changes related to immigration pathways and rhetoric.
While there are 44.7 million immigrants in the United States and while the largest felt need of immigrants is access to immigration legal services, there are only 13,000 immigration attorneys and 900 non-profit immigration legal sites throughout the United States. Due to this lack of immigration legal services, immigrants are often targeted by unauthorized legal practitioners (notarios) that prey on immigrants’ vulnerability or they have to travel large distances and spend large sums of money. Many communities are located in immigration legal services deserts with no direct access to immigration legal services. However, Immigrant Connection's goal is to build capacity in communities that are under resourced and have limited to no access to low-cost immigration legal services. We believe having direct relationships to legal providers creates the essential foundation of trust needed and also lessens the confusion that comes with referrals and navigators who may be able to provide some services but are unable to legally provide answers to immigration questions and represent immigrants on immigration casework. Direct access to accredited immigration legal representatives is needed to overcome this obstacle.
In most communities, foreign-born men and women also face barriers of cost, in addition to accessibility, when striving to maintain legal status. In order to stay in legal status, immigrants require legal services, including help completing forms/applications, as well as the facilitation of filing with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A single filing with the USCIS costs over $1000, on average – an amount exceeding the fiscal capabilities of many immigrants’ families; this does not include the additional legal representation costs that average from $2,000-$10,000+. Low-cost immigration legal services and/or grants to pay for initial consultations and underwrite the high costs is necessary to overcome this obstacle.
Further a majority of legal permanent residents meet the eligibility requirements to become a US Citizen, but most do not move forward with the naturalization process due to not understanding the process and lack of understanding if they are prepared to pass the citizenship test. Many immigrants who are eligible to naturalize lack any way to assess if they are able to pass the English requirements and civics requirements related to the citizenship interview. Without a trustworthy way to evaluate their ability or preparation needs, they either choose to not move forward (not wanting to waste the finances involved) or the unknowingly move forward and risk being denied. Knowledgeable outreach and consistent assessment are needed in order to overcome this obstacle.
In the current political climate, the constants within legal immigration statuses are changing in ways employees and immigrants are not accustomed to. There is consistent confusion about new policies and how/when they will be implemented. Frequent questions arise as immigrants may not know who to turn to in order to find trustworthy information in the ever-changing context. Legal representatives who stay current on all changing policies and who are regularly able to answer questions at the facility is needed in order to overcome this obstacle.