With stories of migrants and the repercussions of family separation headlining the national news lately, shameful administration decisions have refocused America’s attention on immigration and galvanized the public to take to the streets to protest needlessly cruel policies. Many continue to make their voices heard through phone calls to their political representatives, by volunteering for local initiatives that serve vulnerable immigrant populations, and via donations to organizations supporting immigrants and legal work. Immigration attorneys, already working with vulnerable immigrants on a daily basis, feel increased pressure to help as many people as possible. In this climate, one thing is clear: immigration attorneys can’t do it all by themselves. We need all hands on deck. We need the countless community allies willing to show up and support the immigrants in their community and the work of the knowledgeable attorneys fighting for their clients.
One example that highlights the importance of community allies is AILA’s Citizenship Day. For the 12th year, AILA chapters are uniting with local immigrant coalitions and collaboratives, libraries and schools, faith communities, and government offices to host dozens of workshops across the country on and around September 15th. Due to the hard work of immigration attorneys and community volunteers, hundreds of citizenship applications are submitted each year. Those who become citizens will have a say in upcoming elections, along with the other rights and obligations that citizenship affords. While many attorneys have strong community contacts, local partners take these Citizenship Day events to the next level by utilizing their connections to amplify outreach to community members to increase future citizen turnout. Their established connections help with important logistics such as finding space, interpreters, and additional volunteers.
Another example of the importance of finding local allies is 2018’s Maggio Fellow, Yunuen Trujillo-Jimenez. The Michael Maggio Immigrants’ Rights Summer Fellowship was established jointly in 2009 by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CHRCL), and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIP/NLG) to commemorate the life and extraordinary legal contributions of Michael Maggio. The primary mission of the fellowship program is to strengthen law students’ long-term commitment to promote justice and equality for vulnerable immigrant groups. This year, Ms. Trujillo-Jimenez, a future immigration attorney, teamed up with L.A. Voice, a community organization in Los Angeles made up of 57 diverse churches, synagogues, and mosques, to carry out this mission.
As a Fellow with L.A. Voice, Yunuen did extensive community outreach. She met with the staff for political representatives to discuss immigration matters and with California Deputy Attorney Generals at an exclusive SB54 stakeholders’ meeting. Yunuen partnered with Bet Tzedek Legal Services to create a set of Frequently Asked Questions regarding the care of minor children in the case of deportation. She mapped out legal service providers, advocates, immigrant coalitions, and information resources in Los Angeles. Impressively, she scheduled and led immigration trainings with 45 regional leaders for L.A. Voice. Places of worship often serve as centers of safety and hope for undocumented immigrants, so Yunuen’s work to support local immigrants was strengthened by her ties with L.A. Voice.
The knowledge and experience immigration attorneys offer are precious resources. We are well positioned to fight for each of our clients everyday; however, if we aim to fight larger battles, against unjust policies, we need more support. Reach out to your community-based organizations, faith-based communities, schools, government offices, and other partners to build relationships with those equally passionate about immigration and how policies impact our communities. When we combine our legal knowledge and experience with the drive and passion of our community partners, our impact grows like a firestorm.