Being an immigrant is already a big step and a bundle all together. First because having the courage to live in another country is very hard to find and not everybody is able to do it; second, because you are far from family and friends and the legal system sometimes does not benefit you or it is not easy for you to understand.
All in all being an immigrant is tough and sometimes annoying and painful. Luckily in Santa Barbara, there is a non-profit called Immigrant Hope that is helping those immigrants navigate the legal system so they can achieve their goals and make their life easier.
Immigrant Hope is directly related with the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), and their mission is to give the resources and help the churches in what they need so they, in turn, can provide immigrants with help navigating the legal system, hope for their lives through the gospel and care for their needs.
Apart from all the struggles that living in another country brings, the legal system is another one of those that becomes very important because mistakes in these processes can have consequences. In the United States, legal system consequences could be loss of status, detention, deportation, persecution and separation from families. A lot of other legal topics are easily understood and legal advice is easy to find. But when it comes to immigration, advice, and help is only available for those who can afford it, and those with the least education are usually left aside facing the system all by themselves. There are conmen (notarios they call them) that take advantage of immigrants and make them spend thousands of dollars and many years of their lives with bad advice and fraud.
So here is where the churches come in and save the day. Churches that can give immigrant a space to ask questions and understand their situation can make a major impact on communities and people whose lives depend on these types of processes. Churches can also help out by giving immigrant a spiritual guidance through the Kingdom of God and Christ Jesus. Being close to immigrants gives the church a credibility to help out in spiritual topics and gives them a hope on their legal status and on their current spiritual situation. Immigrant Hope hopes to give churches the necessary tools to serve their immigrant neighbours in legal advice and with the word of the gospel. As with the process of being an immigrant, churches face the prices of helping out in this stage of life and Immigrant Hope wants to help the churches help the immigrants by giving the churches a standardized set of resources and helping them set up their clinic and earn government certification.
So, after this long introduction, what is it that Immigrant Hope does for immigrants? And how exactly do they do it? They basically do 2 things to help the churches that are immigrant friendly: first, they provide a support network for immigration legal services and they have a training program that addresses the requirements for government certification and the needs of church-based immigration legal workers.
As for their support network, Immigrant Hope works with local churches that aim at helping immigrants within the community. What they do is to evaluate the needs of the church, the resources it has, and what strategic partnerships could be done with other churches. They also help the church with the processes of becoming a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) recognized (government-certified) immigration legal service provider. As soon as the church has this BIA, Immigrant Hope helps them with all the logistics and administrative part that a legal aid clinic requires and then they continue providing legal, program, and ministry support to the clinic.
The training for immigration representatives that Immigrant Hope developed is a customized course for people that want to learn about the requirements for government certification and for churches and their church-based immigration legal workers. Their course is called IMMIGRANT PATHWAY Institute and has had many students from which many of them have become legal services consultants for vulnerable immigrants.
The centers are very similar to going to the doctor: for example, the volunteers act like nurses gathering information and classifying patients. Then accredited representatives that act like doctors take a look at the information and talk to the clients to know which path to take. The volunteers who are similar to nurses ask for any other important information and complete forms and paperwork needed to better understand the case. If the case is too difficult or requires extra knowledge and expertise it is sent to special experienced attorneys, who in this case will act like specialists in a clinic.
Be sure to also read this post about teaching children the art of symphony music in Santa Barbara
* Featured Image courtesy of Inmigrant Hope at Flickr.com