Immigrant Justice Program: Serving the Persecuted

DSC_7902In recent years, the Clinic’s services have been divided into various programs like the Consumer Justice Program, which assists people with things like tax or foreclosure issues; the Victim Justice Program, which focuses largely on women, children, and men who need various kinds of legal assistance to ensure their safety; and the Immigrant Justice Program, which helps those seeking to adjust their immigration status. Such programmatic distinctions are borne out of years of working in the community and of coming to understand its need for more holistic services.

Immigrant Justice Program (IJP) Staff Attorney Rachel Van Tyle says, “Immigration has always been a really big part of [the Clinc] … it’s been a kind of pillar for why the Clinic became so important to this community.” But, ultimately, the staff realized that their clients needed more than just immigration assistance. Most of the time, they also need tax assistance, foreclosure prevention, etc. Rachel says, “IJP was created to identify those other barriers and other legal issues that they may face, and try and pair them with other community partners that may be able to assist them.” For instance, she recalls one woman who was pregnant, but who was not receiving prenatal care. In addition to helping her with seeking asylum, Rachel also referred her to various partners and community resources so that she could receive the physical care she needed to safely deliver a healthy baby.


Rachel Van Tyle and Brandon Fitzsimmons

Brandon Fitzsimmons, who serves as the Program Manager for IJP, acknowledges the hardships faced by immigrants who come to this country. He says, “There is a sacrifice taking place on the side of the client, because they are leaving their homeland, the place where they were born and have their earliest memories and deepest cultural sensibilities.” Considering the hardships faced by immigrants helps to spur on their work, day by day. Rachel adds, “I like to remind people of how hard working immigrants are—that they are not taking advantage of our system. They’re not criminals; they’re not rapists; they’re not horrible people. They’re just trying to make a better life for themselves.”

Very often, that better life means fleeing unspeakable violence in their home countries. “We had a woman from Nigeria who converted from Islam to Christianity, who was the victim of female genital mutilation, whose daughter was the victim of female genital mutilation. They have a daughter they are afraid to take back there,” Rachel says. “We had another woman who was a victim of domestic violence in Honduras. These are the kinds of people we are seeing, and they’re not bad people; they’re good people fleeing really bad situations. And if we have the power to help them and the law is on their side, we have a duty as attorneys to do what we can.”