January 27, Community Legal Aid Society on Immigration

From Community Legal Aid Society, Laura Graham, Deputy Director and Managing Attorney, and John Whitelaw, Advocacy Director, in a discussion on immigrants in the Delaware Valley.   They described the work of CLASI, providing legal aid to low income and under served communities on housing, elder law, benefits, domestic abuse and victims of crime and their work with local immigrants, documented workers, residents, out of status and undocumented.   CLASI will provide representation for immigrants who are victims of crime, victims of human trafficking, abused spouses and children removed from parental care among others.

They noted that nearly one in ten Delaware resident is an immigrant and a further 7 percent are native born citizens of at least one immigrant parent.  They come through work or student visas or through refugee programs, and the process for legal admittance is slow and difficult, with filing fees of nearly $2,000, background checks, and proof of employment, family or humanitarian reason for applying.   John noted the distinction made for doctors, a required 'residency' administering to an under served community, or investors, with cash and jobs to offer.   They discussed the process, which can take years and be halted for over-staying, a deportment or criminal charges.   We talked about who immigrant families are - the average who has out stayed has been living and working in the state for fifteen years and many are mixed families, one or both parents could be undocumented while some or all children could be citizens.      They talked about the myths and misconceptions that immigrants receive benefits - no one can receive benefits without documentation, and in fact they are actually paying into the system through their taxes.   They discussed the problems mixed families face, with concerns that taking benefits for entitled children or parents, could endanger the rest.  This leads to issues with law enforcement as crimes are under-reported, lost early educational opportunities,  and health issues as children go unvaccinated and women pass on pre-natal care and WIC benefits.  Finally, Laura discussed proposed changes to the immigration process that would expand the definition of public charge and dependence on the state for support to include such common benefits as SNAP or Section 8 housing, making residency even more difficult.

For more information - confidential - visit DECLASI.ORG

For residents of New Jersey and Philadelphia, there are community legal aid offices available to you at Legal Aid Services of New Jersey and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia