Emily loved teaching at Exodus Refugee, but in January things changed rapidly. “A week after the inauguration, the first Executive Order happened, and that’s when the ball started rolling,” she says, “We realized we were losing funding; we were losing clients in general, and we were going to be losing staff as well.” Exodus was forced to downsize drastically, and Emily lost her job in the shuffle.
On August 20, the Clinic held a 1-day event known as Naturalization Day. Hosted by Washington Township at Northview Middle School, volunteers and Clinic staff served 62 individual clients on the path to citizenship. According to Immigrant Justice Program Manager Brandon Fitzsimmons, tackling such a process in a single day is beneficial to everyone involved, with a higher volume of clients served in a much shorter timeframe. “We’re looking at 2 possibly 3 months of meetings, revisions, signings—everything truncated,” he says. “[Naturalization Day] is a benefit to the client and it also allows us to be more efficient with our own production.”
Audrey’s first in-person introduction to the Clinic was through volunteering during Refugee Adjustment Day (RAD Day) in October of 2015. On that day, she witnessed dozens of immigrants and volunteer attorneys and staff working together to submit paperwork to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to help refugees apply for their Legal Permanent Residence. On that day, Audrey remembers entertaining a Congolese woman’s three children, drawing pictures together while their mother worked with an attorney. By late afternoon, the woman’s paperwork was completed and her eyes filled with tears of joy. This experience especially convinced Audrey of the Clinic’s impact. She says, “Once these clients become more than just numbers, when they become faces, become names, when they are personalities that you come to know, it really changes the game. It makes it very personal, very urgent.”
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.”
This month included one of our biggest volunteer events of the year: Refugee Adjustment Day 2015. Coordinated by Immigrant Justice Program Manager Brandon Fitzsimmons and Staff Attorney Rachel VanTyle, the Clinic helped 51 refugees complete green card applications in just one day! In fact, a majority of the photographs* in this month’s collage feature men, women, and children who have fled catastrophic conditions in their home countries and who now reside in our community.
During this event, we streamed our first live broadcast using the Periscope app. If you’re interested in receiving an alert the next time we broadcast live from an event, please be sure to download this app and follow us @NCLegalClinic. We also learned more about Grace Church and all of the ways they are using their position to serve the community via the Grace Care Center.
Rachel VanTyle, the lead staff attorney for RAD, adds that mass volunteer events like this are important for the community and for efficiency’s sake. She says, “What it would take me 4 months to do, we can do in 8 hours with this many volunteers.” Such days also give the Clinic the opportunity to provide services for which we might lack funding. Rachel explains that each application, if completed by a paid attorney, would cost roughly $500 per client. Therefore, by relying on volunteers to help so many people at once, the Clinic is able to provide more than $25,000 worth of services that might otherwise be impossible.