Advocating for young immigrants like Talha

Talha has faced more challenges in his young life than some people do in their entire lifetime, but life wasn’t always difficult.  Born in Turkey, Talha grew up in a loving family with his parents and younger sister, supporters of the Hizmet Movement.  For Talha, this meant having access to one of the best sources of education in his country.  It provided him the opportunity to explore areas of study that were not accessible to the average Turkish student and introduced him to his love of robotics.  After finishing middle school in the top percentage of students nationally, Talha eagerly prepared to attend one of the best high schools in his country.  That summer, everything changed.

Known internationally as a progressive Muslim group focused on education, disaster relief, and medicine, the Hizmet Movement was blamed by Turkish political leaders for a coup attempt in July 2016.  Turkish President Erdoğan alleged the Hizmet Movement was a terrorist organization and began imprisoning Movement leaders.   Talha’s father was one of those political prisoners.

“My father was just helping people. He would travel to Somalia [to work on aid relief].  He helped people get coal in the cold winter.  He was a good man, but they arrested him.”

Talha, his mother, and little sister were left to fend for themselves.

“We had no money, nothing.  I couldn’t say my father was in the Hizmet Movement. I couldn’t tell people my father was in jail.  I had to hide myself; it was really hard.”

Two years later, faced with limited opportunities for education, Talha decided to escape to the United States at the age of 17.  He came to Charlotte to live with his father’s friend, who helped him connect to the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.  The Advocacy Center’s help came at a crucial time.

“I didn’t know how to speak, how to write, or how to read English.  I had no one around me.  I had just escaped from my country, and I didn’t know how to be a refugee.  But then my friend found Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.”

The Advocacy Center’s Immigrant Justice Program staff attorney, Kiara Vega, worked diligently to help Talha apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).  Talha’s application for SIJS was approved and he was granted a Green Card. 

When Talha heard his request for permanent legal status was approved, he was overcome: “I was completing my college applications and I needed a Green Card, otherwise I wouldn’t be eligible for scholarships.  One day my friend went to the mailbox and brought me an envelope.  I opened it and it was my Green Card.  At that moment, you cannot even realize my happiness.  It meant college for me, it meant a future life in the US for me, it meant a lot.”

Talha believes the Advocacy Center changed his life.  He wants to improve his English, but eloquently describes what the Advocacy Center means to him:

“I was in a room, the door was locked, and I couldn’t get out.  I needed to open that door to get to my new world, into my new life.  Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy was the key.  You helped me open the door.”

Now a student at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Talha’s future looks brighter as he pursues a degree in aerospace engineering.  He maintains a strong relationship with his family back in Turkey and hopes they will be able to join him some day in the United States.    He believes all his fellow Turkish citizens deserve a better future.

Your support of the Access to Justice Campaign ensures we can fight for young immigrants like Talha, providing opportunity and stable immigration status. Donate today to help us keep up the fight.

Health care coverage at a critical time

Ana’s doctor referred her to Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy to discuss health care options and other public benefits assistance as she approached retirement.  At the time, Ana didn’t know what an impact that call would have on her life. 

Ana immigrated to the United States from Mexico almost 15 years ago.  A legal permanent resident, she was not aware of the public benefits available to her. When she contacted the Advocacy Center, one of our health insurance Navigators, Abigail Duemler, helped her determine the benefits to which Ana was entitled.  Quickly approaching retirement age, enrolling in Food and Nutrition Services provided critical food security for Ana.    

Even more importantly, Abigail helped Ana to enroll in Medicaid and then in Medicare when she turned 65.  Having access to affordable health care was crucial when Ana became critically ill with COVID-19 last winter.  Fearing for her life and worried about the resulting medical bills, Ana’s family was relieved to know her medical costs would be covered.   As she continues to recover from the long-term effects of the illness, Ana remains thankful: “I am so grateful to [have health insurance].  When I receive the bills and see that Medicaid is paying, I am so grateful.  I don’t know what I would have done without your help.” 

When Ana speaks of the Advocacy Center, it is with immense appreciation: “You have been such a strong guide for me.  It’s an excellent organization.”  Yet Ana realizes there are so many more people just like her that might need help. 

“There are many people like me who come from another country, who may not speak English, and are not aware of the help they can get.” 

Navigating public benefit and health care systems is increasingly complex, even more so for non-English speaking North Carolinians.  The Advocacy Center’s team of federally trained health insurance Navigators includes bilingual staff members that are a critical resource for native Spanish speaking clients.  Ana hopes her friends and neighbors contact the Advocacy Center: “I want to help other people find [the Advocacy Center] so they can get support just like I did.” 

Advocating for breast cancer patients like Charlotte..

Diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 28, Charlotte knows how terrifying and stressful it can be to hear you are sick. But rather than address her health concerns and acknowledge what she may be feeling, Charlotte’s doctor immediately asked how she planned to pay for her treatment.  A single working mother of a 9-year-old son, Charlotte’s fears and stress levels were quickly amplified as the harsh reality of her expensive cancer treatment began to sink in.  

Concerned she would have to sell the house she had worked so hard to buy, Charlotte decided to advocate for herself. 

Charlotte learned about the Breast and Cervical Cancer Medicaid (BCCM) program from her sister who had been in contact with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.  BCCM helps eligible women to pay for their breast and/or cervical cancer treatment.  (To be eligible, women must be uninsured or have insurance that does not cover the necessary treatment, fall at 250% of the poverty line for their family size, and are a U.S. citizen or have qualified immigration status.)  Meeting these requirements, Charlotte proactively applied to the program on her own. 

“I applied for the Medicaid program on my own and they kept denying me.  I was really stressed during [my treatment].  The hospital was sending me bills and I didn’t know what I was going to do.” 

What Charlotte did not know at the time was that to be eligible to apply for BCCM, individuals must meet eligibility criteria for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP). A BCCCP provider must then submit the BCCM application on behalf of that individual.  When she submitted the application on her own, Charlotte faced delays and hurdles in the complicated process.  

Charlotte contacted the Advocacy Center for help.  A Family Support and Health Care staff attorney at the Advocacy Center, Becca Friedman, identified the procedural roadblocks and communicated with the local agency to work towards a resolution.  Becca was able to advocate for Charlotte and Charlotte was successfully granted BCCM eligibility. 

The peace of mind Becca provided Charlotte as she underwent cancer treatment was critical: 

“If I didn’t have an advocate, the experience would have been so much more stressful.  Becca kept me updated and followed the process of my application because social services wasn’t updating me directly.  Without Becca, I don’t know what I would have done.” 

No longer plagued by the financial stress of her treatment, Charlotte was able to focus on what mattered the most: her health, her recovery, and her son. 

When asked what she wants people to know about her story, Charlotte quickly responds that she wants to help women going through the same thing.

“When you get the bad news.  That would be the first thing I would want to tell people: there is help available, you have options.” 

Charlotte is happy to say she is now cancer free, and life is slowly returning to normal.  Throughout her cancer treatment, she continued to work and re-enrolled in school.  Inspired by her journey, Charlotte is now pursuing a degree in the medical field. 

Your support of the Access to Justice Campaign ensures we can fight for neighbors like Charlotte, facing civil legal issues impacting their safety, security, and stability. Donate today to help us keep up the fight.

One woman’s journey to become a permanent resident

The first thing you notice when you meet Mirian is her kind smile and upbeat attitude.  What you might not know is the 10-year journey it took to her become a permanent resident after immigrating to the United States as a young girl.

Born in El Salvador, Mirian traveled to the United States alone at the age of 13 when her grandmother and primary caregiver passed away.  She was able to reach her mom in Charlotte, where she now lives.

For Mirian, the possibility of getting a green card “…is a dream that every person like me is waiting for.”  But she quickly learned that it was a dream that would take time, knowledge, and resources she didn’t have.  Facing the immense barriers put in place by a complicated immigration system, Mirian contacted Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.  From the moment the representation began, she knew it was the right decision.

“It’s an amazing place.  You feel secure when you get there, and the people were all kind.  At the beginning I didn’t speak any English, but you always had translators available.  I felt at home.”

With the support of her family and her own determination over the years, Mirian was aided by Advocacy Center attorneys and obtained her permanent residency this past spring as a Special Immigration Juvenile.  Mirian is not a lone statistic.  Research has found that the probability of a positive outcome in an immigration case increases dramatically, from 5% to 95%, when an individual has legal representation.  Most cases take years to resolve and hiring a private attorney can be cost prohibitive for immigrants and their families. 

Reflecting on the experience, Mirian cannot help but be overcome with emotion.  “[Without Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy] I think it would have been difficult for me and my family.  If I had to go somewhere else, it would have cost a lot of money.  My mom couldn’t afford it.  I am thankful for everything you have done for me, everything you have done for my family.”

Now married with two wonderful children, Mirian knows having a green card has created the stability and security that she dreamed of when she came to America over a decade ago.  “I don’t have to live in fear.  I can live in peace and see my kids grow up.”

Planning to return to school to explore a career in real estate, Mirian is excited about the possibilities in front of her. “I see my future better than I did before.”

A Wholistic Approach to Civil Legal Needs

Sharon has spent her entire life taking care of other people.  With a bright smile and a great attitude, she devoted 42 years to the nursing field, ensuring she did all she could to give her patients the best possible care.  Her dedication to others includes her three daughters, the eldest of which experienced a severe asthma attack at the age of 10.   After losing oxygen to her brain, her daughter was left with long term disabilities and requires 24-hour care.  Now an adult, Sharon continues to oversee the care of her daughter and speaks proudly of the blessings all her daughters provide.

Sharon initially reached out to the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy for tax assistance in 2017.  Facing a mounting tax bill incurred by she and her husband, Sharon needed help navigating the complex tax laws and determining her payment options.  Staff attorney, Soree Finley, was able to negotiate a payment plan with the IRS that allowed Sharon to repay her tax liabilities within the limits of her income.  Sharon is quick to acknowledge the impact Finley’s work had on her life: “I cannot even begin to say how much of a blessing [Soree] has been in my life: her expertise, her knowledge, her hard work.  Because of her service, because of knowing how to execute the law and how to help people in my position, I was able to break free [of my insurmountable tax bill].”

Sharon’s life was further upended when her husband left her to raise her daughters alone.  “When he left, the bottom dropped out for us.  I was a single mom taking care of a daughter in college, a daughter in middle school getting ready to go to high school, and my oldest daughter who needed 24-hour critical care.  We had a lot going on; I was managing everything.”  Although she was the family’s primary source of income, Sharon had relied on her husband’s job for health insurance.  Sharon enrolled in health care through the Health Insurance Marketplace to provide coverage for her family.  Complicated rules determining coverage eligibility by income level caused her to temporarily lose insurance.  Scrambling to resolve the error on her own, Sharon felt hopeless.  “I did my homework, I did everything [the Health Insurance Marketplace] asked me to do, but it didn’t matter, I kept running into a brick wall.”  One of the Advocacy Center’s federally trained Navigators, Julieanne Taylor, stepped in to file an appeal and reenrolled Sharon in Marketplace health care coverage.  Taylor was also able to connect Sharon with a Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program counselor who ultimately helped Sharon enroll in Medicare.  After suffering a stroke in 2021, Sharon was incredibly grateful for the peace of mind having health insurance provided.   “Julieanne literally saved my life.  The pressure, the stress, it could have destroyed my health.”

“When life comes at you and you need a response, my response is Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.”

When it came time to plan for the future, Sharon once again reached out to the Advocacy Center to ensure she could provide for her elder disabled daughter.  She wanted to be certain the decisions she made in her estate planning allowed her to prioritize her daughter’s care regardless of her personal choices.  Facing another complex system, social security for her daughter, Sharon knew the Advocacy Center would be a valuable resource.  “There are a lot of hurdles, information that no one tells you, and ways you can prevent your situation from become a demise financially.  The expert lawyers [at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy] helped me to ask the right questions, get the right answers, to know how to structure things so as not to mess up my daughter’s future.” 

Sharon’s appreciation for the lawyers and staff at the Advocacy Center is effusive: “They were the angels of mercy that God had used, educated, and trained in their field to be experts.  They come with full power.  They know what they need to do and get the job done.  They are walking powerhouses in my opinion.”

As difficult as her life has been, Sharon views it all with grace and a positivity that is contagious.  She recognizes her legal options would have been limited without the low-income services Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is able to provide: “When life comes at you and you need a response, my response is Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.  I qualify because of my age and my income, thank God!  What would I do? Where would I go?  Who can afford lawyers?”  Sharon is not wrong.  An assessment of legal needs in North Carolina found that 70% of low-income families have at least one civil legal issue each year.  Furthermore, people seeking a solution to their legal problems are often forced to navigate complicated systems without the help of a lawyer, resulting in detrimental consequences to their stability, security, and safety.  By connecting with the Advocacy Center, Sharon was able to end that cycle and resolve her issues with the support of knowledgeable, expert staff and attorneys.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy provides legal assistance and access to critical resources for all, not just those who can afford it. If life creates challenges for you, as it did Sharon, the Advocacy Center is here to help. Connect with us today.