In times of crisis and despair, we witness both the best and worst of people. People read and hear about the thousands of Central American children desperate enough to make a treacherous journey to the U.S. and ask, “How can I help?” If you are able to volunteer or donate funds, you may want to consider the following legal services organizations in Austin.
American Gateways (formerly the Political Asylum Project of Austin/Proyecto de Asilo Político de Austin, or PAPA), http://www.americangateways.org, offers immigration legal services for immigrants and refugees.
Programs of the Bernardo Kohler Center, http://bernardokohler.org, include legal services for children who are refugees, asylum seekers, or immigrants who may qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile (S.I.J.) status. It also provides representation for people who are not U.S. citizens who seek asylum in the U.S., or who may qualify for “T” or “U” visas. “T” visas are for survivors of trafficking; “U” visas for crime victims who have suffered physical or mental abuse who are cooperating with law enforcement.
Casa Marianella, www.casamarianella.org, provides emergency housing for up to 35 adult immigrants and English classes. Its Posada Esperanza Transitional Shelter specifically serves women and children escaping violence with temporary housing and educational programs for both women and youth. Casa Marianella also has a legal services program: http://www.casamarianella.org/?s=legal+services
Immigration Legal Services of Catholic Charities of Central Texas, http://ccctx.org/ils/ assists low-income immigrants.
National Justice For Our Neighbors (JFON), a United Methodist Ministry, http://njfon.org concerns itself with hospitality, immigration legal services, education, and advocacy. This year (2014), JFON opened an office in Austin.
Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES, http://www.raicestexas.org, with offices in San Antonio, Austin, and Corpus Christi, assists “unaccompanied minors” – that is, children who are refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants who came to the U.S. without their parents. It also provides legal consultation, representation, and advocacy for asylum seekers (of any age) and detained survivors of torture (of any age); and adult victims of crime. RAICES people also help with family reunification, citizenship, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Finally, the Texas Civil Rights Project also provides assistance to adults and children who have been abused by a U.S. citizen or U.S. legal permanent resident spouse, parent, or partner (as long as neither partner is married to someone else). People in this situation may qualify for a visa under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Most Central American children are fleeing from different kinds of danger, not are not as likely to be seeking sanctuary from a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident parent, but of course individual histories don’t always fit neatly into patterns or generalizations.
All of the programs listed above — American Gateways, the Bernardo Kohler Center, Casa Marianella, Catholic Charities, RAICES, and the Texas Civil Rights Project — are non-profit organizations.
There are also independent lawyers who represent refugees and immigrants for free (on a “pro bono” basis), for costs only, or for very small fees. Some of these pro bono clients come as referrals from legal services programs such as American Gateways. Other times, clients who are locked up in immigration “detention centers” (which we could more accurately call jails or prisons) find out the names of lawyers from other people with whom they are incarcerated. When this happens, the phone calls from detention centers just do not stop.