Toussaint Romain, CEO, Celebrates 1 Year at the Advocacy Center

We sat down with Toussaint for a quick interview to hear more about his first year at the Advocacy Center.

Q: Tell us about your first year as CEO at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.

A: The first year has been incredibly rewarding. I have been fortunate to step into an organization that has had a strong presence in the community for over 50 years, led by a team of advocates that are passionate about fighting for those in crisis in our community. It’s been gratifying to see the staff develop and to encourage new leaders to emerge. We have come together as a team to address our challenges and identify new opportunities for growth. I’m excited to see what is possible in year two and beyond!

Q: What do you think is the greatest strength of the Advocacy Center?

A: The unwavering support of our community and the attorneys and advocates that show up every day on behalf of our clients, united by a strong mission.  I am inspired by the staff’s driving commitment to prioritize the needs of our clients, their willingness to challenge the systemic status quo, and their ability to creatively solve problems to create tangible resolutions for those in crisis.  Many of our staff members have personal experiences that allow them to relate to what our clients are experiencing, which is crucial to building an empathetic dialogue. 

Q: How have you been able to connect with the community?

A: I take every opportunity I can to be out in the community.  I want to hear directly from the individuals we serve and to understand how we can grow as an organization to meet our community’s changing needs.  We want our clients to know they have someone on their side, ready to listen, and ready to fight for them.  As legal service providers, it can be easy to assume that we are the experts, but no one knows the situation better than the clients themselves.  To be successful, we must view our work as a collaboration between ourselves, our clients, and other critical community organizations.

Q: What is your vision for the future of the Advocacy Center?

A: Thanks to continued support from our community, I envision a strong future for the Advocacy Center.  If we are to truly serve our clients, we must think about how we can advocate in a holistic way.  This means empowering our community through outreach and education opportunities, continuing to advocate for systemic changes that address the underlying issues impacting our clients, expanding our legal services to fully address the most pressing needs of our clients, and strengthening our connections with community partners to provide access to resolutions for our clients, but not only when they are in crisis. 

Advocacy Center Responds to Medicaid Changes

On April 1st, pandemic-era protections that kept individuals enrolled in Medicaid were rolled back.  The Local Department of Social Services (DSS) resumed redeterminations, reducing or terminating Medicaid coverage for those who are no longer eligible. Experts anticipated that approximately 300,000 North Carolinians would lose access to affordable health care as a result. 

To address the looming crisis, Advocacy Center staff engaged in extensive outreach and education efforts with beneficiaries and providers.  The team offered webinars educating those impacted by the change, initiated a state-wide communication effort to increase awareness and connect beneficiaries with critical resources, and engaged the community and our partners through numerous outreach events.  Efforts were focused on educating individuals and families about their rights and how to navigate the complicated process to ensure they maintain access to care.   In addition, staff continued to provide legal assistance to beneficiaries facing service or eligibility denials.

As a result of a settlement agreement reached in October 2022 in Franklin v. Kinsley, formerly known as Hawkins v. Cohen, the Advocacy Center is in a unique position to ensure beneficiaries’ rights will be protected during the redetermination process.  In the settlement agreement, the North Carolina Medicaid agency agreed to extensive and very detailed changes to its procedures, forms, and notices for redetermining Medicaid eligibility for those currently enrolled in Medicaid.  Through enforcement of the settlement agreement, legal staff can ensure the 2.8 million North Carolinians with Medicaid will not lose coverage for which they are still eligible due to procedural terminations. 

Local Immigration Org Expects Surge in Demand Following Title 42 Repeal

By Ryan Pitkin

With the repeal of the federal public health emergency order on May 11, residents will see a drop in COVID-19 tracking and testing, among other changes, while some non-residents face a more unsure future. Title 42, a provision that has been used to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States during public health emergencies, was also allowed to expire on Thursday. 

While the expiration of the order is expected to lead to backups at the Mexican border, it may also lead to an influx in migrants in the Charlotte area, home to the only federal immigration court in the Carolinas. 

The Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy (CCLA) is preparing to assist Charlotte-area migrants who may be affected by the ending of Title 42, “adapting to the changing legal environment in order to address the increasing needs of the migrants coming to the area,” according to a release put out by the organization on Thursday. 

“With the ending of Title 42 today, the Advocacy Center recognizes the need for urgent support to migrants who may have been impacted by this provision,” said Sharon Dove, director of the CCLA’s Immigrant Justice Program. “We are committed to the protection and support of our community and to defending all immigrants — both the newly arrived and those who have been here longer — in removal proceedings.” 

CCLA is offering free legal consultations at its Pro Bono Room in east Charlotte, a small room located next to the waiting room at Charlotte Immigration Court, 5701 Executive Center Drive. The consultation aims to empower someone caught up in the deportation process to make an informed choice about whether to spend money on legal fees, which can be extraordinarily expensive, or learn how to represent themselves “pro se” if that’s what they choose to do. 

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2022 Annual Report

Our work focuses on protecting those most vulnerable, ensuring they have access to legal representation to meet their basic human needs of safety, economic security and stability. View our Annual Report to learn about the strides we have made in our pursuit of justice for those in need this past year.

It shouldn’t take 5 years for the US to help protect NC immigrants like Santos | Opinion | The Charlotte Observer

By Sharon Dove

In 2000, Congress created the U visa to provide protection from deportation and work authorization for crime victims brave enough to come forward against the individuals who violently abused them.

The U visa was designed to help non-citizens who are victims of crimes in the U.S., such as trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault, and have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse. Congress intended for them to receive a U visa within months of applying, but applicants now wait an average of five years for the promised protection.

During the extraordinarily long wait, U visa applicants — already struggling against the trauma left in the wake of violent crime — must fight grinding poverty and keep the government’s push to deport them at bay.

Many do not make it. Some are deported during the wait, some give up hope and return to their home country.

At the Center for Legal Advocacy in Charlotte, where I direct the Immigrant Justice Program, we have a client named Santos who has a young son. I am not using her full name to protect her identity. Her story illustrates by this five-year wait matters to all of us — why it matters to communities across North Carolina.

Santos called the police after 14 years of abuse that she and her children endured by her boyfriend.

One night, Santos’ boyfriend beat her with his fists and an electrical cord. Bleeding and bruised, she thought her boyfriend intended to kill her. The police arrested the boyfriend and a criminal prosecution ensued.

We filed Santos’ U visa application in December 2015, identifying a son who still lived with her as a derivative applicant. Then, the wait began. Living with the uncertainty of her U visa application status, Santos struggled as a single parent to support her family with a cleaning job that paid only $8.50 an hour. She found the job through an acquaintance who agreed to look the other way at Santos’ immigration status. Santos had no other options. She supplemented her meager income with frequent visits to the local food pantries.

In February 2019, the ground opened underneath Santos when an immigration judge ordered her son’s deportation. By then he was 16. His pending U visa application legally afforded him no protection against removal. As a result, a teenager with a solid claim to status was about to be forced to leave his family and resettle in Honduras.

Our office successfully filed an appeal of the deportation order, which allowed Santos’ son to remain in the United States pending his appeal. Other respondents are not as fortunate. Only 20% of immigrant respondents in the Charlotte Immigration Court are represented by legal counsel. Without legal counsel, it is virtually impossible for an individual to file an appeal.

Five years of waiting ended in December 2020 when Santos and her son received their U visas. Santos proudly presented her work permit to her employer, and her hourly wage immediately increased from $8.50 to $15.50. Her visits to the food pantries stopped. Within months, she was able to sign a contract to purchase her home. Her increased salary and the Social Security Number afforded by the U visa made it all possible.

Santos was lucky to make it to the end of her five-year wait. Many applicants do not share that experience.

It is inexcusable that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services takes an average of five years to provide violent crime victims the protection that Congress intended them to have within months of applying for the U visa. It is our hope that the two federal lawsuits filed by the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Legal Aid of North Carolina, the North Carolina Justice Center, and private attorney Brad Banias will put an end to the delays.

Approximately 170,000 immigrants in the United States are waiting — like Santos did — for adjudication of their U visa applications. These individuals are already cooperating with law enforcement; it’s required to get a U visa. The long delays put them — and our communities — in danger.

Sharon Dove is a Charlotte attorney who is Director of Immigrant Justice Program at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.

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Advocacy Center Files Lawsuit to Fight U Visa Backlog

United by a common cause, Legal Aid of North Carolina, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy (Advocacy Center), and the North Carolina Justice Center, are working together to obtain legal relief for immigrant victims of crime amidst significant delays in U Visa application processing. 

Over 150 victims of crime have filed suit in Nebraska and Vermont against the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) alleging that the agency has delayed the processing of the victims’ U Visa applications for years. The victims have cooperated with law enforcement agencies to prosecute the perpetrator, making them eligible for U Visa legal status in the United States. However, significant delays in the granting of the visas have left victims without justice. 

Congress enacted the U Visa for victims of crime in 2000 as a tool for law enforcement and a means to provide benefits to victims of crime who have been helpful to law enforcement. Benefits such as work authorization and legal status help victims achieve financial stability and independence. The years-long delays in processing the applications mean that victims are unable to work and support themselves and their families. 

“For the domestic violence victim who just reported the crimes of their abusive partner, the very same partner that paid the rent, it’s essential that work authorization is available as soon as possible, not five years from now,” said Rona Karacaova, Managing Attorney of Legal Aid NC’s Battered Immigrant Project. “These lawsuits will improve public safety and bring financial stability within victims’ reach like Congress intended.” 

Legal Aid of NC’s Battered Immigrant Project, the Advocacy Center’s Immigrant Justice Program, the NC Justice Center, and Brad Banias of Banias Law, along with assistance from local counsel, Brett Stokes and Jill Martin-Diaz of the Vermont Immigrant Assistance Clinic at Vermont Law and Graduate School, filed the lawsuits against USCIS in Nebraska on Jan. 9 and Vermont on Feb. 2, 2023. 

The lawsuits seek agency action on the delayed cases, specifically employment authorization, protection against deportation, and travel documents for petitioners abroad in need of re-unification with their families in the U.S. The lawsuits are also the first of their kind brought on behalf of U visa petitioners en masse in Nebraska and Vermont. 

“We support the litigation filed by Legal Aid of NC, NC Justice Center, and Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy on behalf of U visa petitioners,” said Sheriff Charles S. Blackwood on behalf of the Orange County, NC Sheriff’s Office. “Any victim who learns it will take years to receive a U visa is likely discouraged from applying. The potential benefits of obtaining lawful status through the process feel too remote and are therefore not an effective incentive to report any crime or voluntarily engage with a law enforcement officer. Reluctance on the part of any portion of the community to report crime jeopardizes everyone’s safety and complicates our ability to protect the most vulnerable members of society.”  

Legal Aid NC’s Battered Immigrant Project, the Advocacy Center’s Immigrant Justice Program, and the North Carolina Justice Center advocate for immigrant survivors. The lawsuits are intended to compel the USCIS to follow Congress’s intent to protect immigrant victims of crime and provide law enforcement effective tools to investigate and prosecute serious criminal activity.   

Welcome, SHARE Charlotte!

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy officially welcomed SHARE Charlotte as a new tenant of the Advocacy Center, at a special event held February 23, 2023 with CEO Toussaint Romain and SHARE’s Managing Director, Melissa Hovey. Both leaders discussed the importance of strengthening community-based solutions at a SHARE-a-latte event hosted at their shared space on Albemarle Road.

SHARE Charlotte started as a single platform built for Charlotteans to find and connect with local nonprofits who need support and volunteers. In December 2012, that platform went live with 87 nonprofit partners. In ten years, the platform has grown to 624 nonprofit partners, representing approximately 85% of all active 501c3 organizations in Mecklenburg County. SHARE’s community-wide giving campaigns and events have influenced $42M in financial support to local nonprofits and 22,000 volunteer opportunities.

Sharing space in the Advocacy Center’s new east Charlotte location will increase SHARE Charlotte’s visibility in a diverse and growing part of Charlotte. The Advocacy Center will benefit from increased awareness among SHARE Charlotte’s vast network of nonprofit partners which have the potential to create partnerships and synergy for the benefit of the Advocacy Center’s client base.

“The vision of Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is to build a just community where all people are treated fairly and have access to legal representation to meet their basic human needs. We cannot achieve that vision alone,” said Romain. “SHARE supports like-minded nonprofit organizations in Charlotte and beyond with opportunities to connect, grow and thrive.”

“The need in our community is so great. In order to empower Charlotte neighbors to achieve safety, security and stability, it takes every agency and organization working closely together,” said Hovey. “We are excited about the natural intersections that will occur from sharing space.”

Both organizations are committed to fostering a spirit of networking and celebrate the unique opportunity to advocate for Charlotte nonprofits and the community.

Record-breaking Open Enrollment

Our Health Insurance Navigators guide families and individuals through the often-confusing healthcare landscape, helping to ensure they have fair access to affordable healthcare. This year, our team increased their presence in the community, offering nearly 1,000 appointments at over 20 locations throughout Mecklenburg, Union, & Cabarrus Counties. 

In total, the Navigator team:

  • Held 971 appointments
  • Enrolled or renewed 250 consumer in coverage on
  • Provided advice or resource assitance to 328 consumers
  • Processed 111 Medicaid applications

The team’s extensive outreach efforts were crucial to ensure health insurance coverage for those who needed it the most.  Across North Carolina, over 800,000 individuals enrolled in coverage on, the fifth highest state in the United States.

We are incredibly proud of our hardworking navigators and their efforts to provide #HealthCareforAll

United Way Neighborhoods

In January, United Way of Greater Charlotte announced a 2023 investment of $16 million into the Charlotte region to fight poverty and improve economic mobility.   As part of the initiative, the Advocacy Center will partner with 8 neighborhoods under the United Neighborhoods grant to offer civil legal assistance to residents. These neighborhoods include:

  • Graham Street/N. Tryon Street
  • Lakeview
  • Albemarle Rd/Central Ave
  • Freedom Drive/Wilkson Boulevard
  • North Mecklenburg: W. Davidson/Smithville/Pottstown
  • North Mecklenburg: Huntington Green
  • Sugar Creek/I-85
  • West Boulevard
  • Grier Heights

The Advocacy Center’s Community Empowerment Project was part of the pilot United Neighborhood program in Grier Heights. Building on what was learned this past year, this opportunity further reflects our organization’s shift to offer place-based services.   Our new Community Advocacy team will partner directly with the neighborhood quarterbacks to empower communities to self-identify their most pressing civil legal needs. We look forward to developing these partnerships to create sustained change in our community!

Tyre Nichols

Tyre Nichols

A human being. A Black man. A son. A father. A friend. A skateboarder. An amateur photographer. A victim of police brutality murdered at only 29 years old. We say again, a HUMAN BEING.

We say his name to give him the respect and dignity he deserved; two things the Memphis police officers that murdered him in early January withheld from him. The violent assault on Mr. Nichols is nothing new. The reality for many Black people is that they have come to expect violence at the hands of police officers because of a culture of aggressive policing that has existed since the initiation of the police force.

We empathize with the grief of Mr. Nichols’s family and the entire Black community. We stand with those who demand real change and protest a system that does not provide justice for all. We dream of a community that is strengthened by the uplifting of ALL its citizens.