This is the third article in our series outlining the results of and intended follow up steps to each of the breakout sessions from Long Island Wins’ highly successful summit on immigration, Long Island at a Turning Point—It’s Everyone’s Opportunity.
Our summit, which took place on Feb. 26 at Hofstra University, included a breakout session on legal services for immigrants co-facilitated by Hofstra Professor Lauris Wren and Patrick Young, program director at CARECEN and a blogger for Long Island Wins. Nearly 50 Long Islanders interested in making legal services more readily available packed the room.
The immigration law session was one of seven tasked with developing action steps to make the most of the opportunities that President Obama’s administrative relief program would bring to Long Island and to help shape the future of immigrant integration and inclusion in our region.
Attendees agreed on two core things: First, there is a shortage of competent free and low-cost immigration legal services here on Long Island. Second is that immigrants are poorly informed about the laws that affect them. Immigrants in Eastern Suffolk particularly lack access to information and help.
Many of the participants in the breakout session came from churches or small ethnic organizations. One of the most valuable takeaways for them was a list of legal resources and the criteria each legal services program has for new clients. The participants agreed that coordinating a resource list that included who was eligible for services was a task that needs to be taken on.
The participants also said that since the non-profits will never be able to serve all Long Islanders who need immigration law assistance, a list of reputable attorneys should also be developed. A new group of immigration law public interest lawyers, formed last summer, will meet in April to draw the list up.
The action items decided upon were as follows:
Improve Access to Spanish Programs Explaining Laws and Programs. Although there are organizations that provide legal services, in areas that have not been traditionally settled by immigrants there is little awareness of these organizations. This is particularly the case on the East End. Also, as immigrants come to Long Island from countries that have not sent large numbers here in the past, information that longer-established communities already have is not passed on to the newcomers. Organizations in this breakout session agreed to help spread the word about where services can be found.
Get The Word Out in Spanish. The people at the session were also concerned that legal outreach materials in Spanish are not always readily available to local groups. Although such materials are available, local activists are not always aware of them. This was brought out in the discussion the group had about community awareness of the programs that would be created by administrative relief. Those working directly with the undocumented said that immigrant awareness of the program was moderate to low in spite of extensive outreach by community groups.
Increase Low Cost or No-Cost Legal Services. Many immigrant families cannot afford to pay for legal services, so any effort to provide more affordable or free services will benefit the immigrant community.