Just Neighbors, a 100WomenStrong grant recipient, provides immigration legal services to low-income immigrant and refugee residents who have a legal pathway in the United States, but are unable to access it because of financial, social or physical challenges. Studies show that naturalized citizens earn more than non-citizens, are less likely to be unemployed and are better represented in highly skilled jobs. Not only does citizenship offer immigrants a sense of membership and participation in society, it also gives them access to many other tax and Social Security benefits.
For more than 20 years here in Northern Virginia, Just Neighbors has used a clinic model to leverage staff attorney time, minimize costs of support staff and efficiently assist clients from 127 countries in Central and South America, Africa, Asia and other areas of the world. The nonprofit organization has a 97-percent success rate for all of its filed cases and wanted to expand its work in Loudoun County. While they helped 48 Loudoun County families last year, they had to turn away many more due to a lack of available funding.
“We have assisted clients from Loudoun County for many years, but are finding a greater need and wanted to increase the number of clients we are able to serve,” shared Stephanie Barnes, Just Neighbors Operations Director. “We receive more than 150 requests for services from Loudoun clients each year, and there are hundreds more who need help, but are unaware of our services.”
According to Barnes, a refugee, immigrant or asylee with a work permit or green card becomes more self-sufficient. The long-term impact for these families is that, once given the ability to work, they are able to find stable employment, increase their earnings and achieve their goals of self-sufficiency. Additionally, when family members gain employment authorizations, individuals can pool their resources together for the benefit of the entire family, greatly increasing their ability to thrive.
“Besides the affirmation of self-worth, long-term legal status gives individuals the needed income to pay for food, clothing and housing for themselves and their families, as well as stable housing, education and healthcare,” Barnes explained. “This in turn reduces their dependency on other social services. For some, the eventual impact is becoming a U.S. citizen.”
The grant from 100WomenStrong will impact approximately 15 families across Loudoun County by funding a community clinic and then provide them with the services they need to take every step of the way toward legal status.
“Because there are few inexpensive options to get help with immigration cases, families often turn to unlicensed immigration providers,” Barnes explained. “Unscrupulous lawyers with inaccurate and misleading advice have exploited many immigrants in Loudoun County, stealing their savings and perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Also, by requiring individuals to pay expensive fees for these services, they have to choose between paying for legal services or for basic needs like food and housing.”
Besides providing support in attaining legal authorization to work in the United States, the Just Neighbors Loudoun Project also benefits its clients by helping them to escape from domestic violence situations and, in the case of refugees and asylees, unite or reunite with their families.
“By funding an immigration legal clinic, 100WomenStrong is able to address the root of poverty for many immigrant families by providing members of that family the opportunity to work.”