It is not easy to navigate the legal ins and outs of immigration laws. That is why it is reassuring to have someone with knowledge who can help with the paperwork and answer some questions concerning immigration. Esperanza Legal Assistance Center provides this assurance.
“We are an immigration legal provider who provides advice, counsel and case management to individuals and families who are seeking an immigration benefit but are not able to afford an attorney to assist with their case,” Carolyn O’Connor, Immigration Legal Specialist from the Esperanza Legal Assistance Center, explained to us.
A lot of community members expressed that there was a need for a place that would provide legal service, especially services related to immigration matters, at a low cost that is why the Esperanza Legal Assistance Center was opened on January of 2017. Ms. O’Connor added that in the future they are planning to expand their services to include other areas of the law as well.
People who work at the Esperanza Legal Assistance Center are mostly volunteers, but the Immigration legal specialists, like Carolyn O’Connor, are DOJ accredited.
“The U.S. Department of Justice oversees the Recognition & Accreditation Program that recognizes nonprofits and staff with specific training/hands-on experience to represent clients before the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration Court, and Board of Immigration Appeals,” Ms. O’Connor clarified the meaning of her title. “Our accreditation allows us to practice immigration law up to the courts, so while we can advise, offer guidance, etc. for someone in removal proceedings, we are not able to represent them in court.”
Although a legal specialist has limits, Ms. O’Connor assured us that the Esperanza Legal Assistance Center has “legal oversight team” that gives advice when needed and in addition, the Center is a member of the “network of legal providers” who are trained to handle cases that are beyond the limits of the Esperanza Legal Assistance Center.
The Esperanza Legal Assistance Center focuses on immigration services for families. They work with clients that look for assistance with sponsorship petitions, adjustment of status, naturalization, DACA and document renewals among other services.
“We are not simply a document preparer, we provide legal representation from the time a case is accepted until the determination by USCIS,” Mr. O’Connor emphasized. “This includes requests for additional information, interview preparation and more.”
Because of the accreditation from the Department of Justice, the Center has to charge a small fee for services provided. The initial consultation fee is only $40. The clients also have to pay the fees associated with the filing of the paperwork and other immigration related payments. Fortunately, Esperanza Legal Assistance Center has partnered with Ascentra Credit Union to offer financial help to clients who cannot afford the immigration fees.
“We currently partner with Ascentra Credit Union as part of the Newcomers Initiative to offer affordable loans for immigration services as well as offer fee waivers and other types of assistance that may be applicable to the situation,” Carolyn O’Connor explained.
According to Alvaro Macias, AVP of Community Development for Ascentra Credit Union, the Credit Union wanted to help immigrant families to have a chance to reach their American Dream. He said that many cannot afford the immigration fees, and as a result they either wait for tax season or fall prey to predatory landing.
“[We] offer loans in a dignified manner,” Mr. Macias said. He explained that the APR rate for this kind of loan is 3.15% and they look for ways to help those that might have bad credit or no credit at all. Ascentra Credit Union also accepts ITIN number for this kind of loan.
“We are helping people to pay something that can help their families,” Alvaro Macias said.
Once it is determined that the Esperanza Legal Assistance Center will be taking on the case, the clients could be directed to Ascentra Credit Union for help with payment of immigration fees.
Thanks to the Esperanza Legal Assistance Center many community members can now try to resolve their immigration issues and it will not cost them an arm and a leg. If you would like a consultation with the Esperanza Legal Assistance Center you can call their office to make an appointment at (309) 732-0047 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The office hours are Mondays from 4 PM to 9 PM, Thursdays from 9 AM to 12 PM and 4 PM to 9 PM. The Esperanza Legal Assistance Center office is located at the Esperanza Center at 335 5th Avenue in Moline, IL (the former Ericsson school) on the 2nd floor of the building. For more information about Ascentra Credit Union Newcomers Initiative please visit https://www.ascentra.org/resources/new-iowans-initiative This information is also available in Spanish.
Pictured: Carolyn O’Connor, Immigration Legal Specialist from the Esperanza Legal Assistance Center
Photo by Tar Macias