As legal issues persist, North Carolina ‘dreamers’ hope bipartisan deal saves the day | Charlotte Observer

By DJ Simmons

Read more at: As legal issues persist, North Carolina ‘dreamers’ hope bipartisan deal saves the day

Oscar Romero, a UNC Charlotte graduate, says it can cost $500 to submit and renew the application that allows him to remain a “dreamer.”

He is among 24,000 undocumented immigrants across North Carolina called “dreamers,” people who arrived in the United States as children and participate in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The DACA program keeps young undocumented immigrants from being deported and allows them to attend school and apply for work permits.

As the program faces continued legal scrutiny, “dreamers” are hopeful the latest bipartisan congressional effort to revise immigration policy, which includes DACA, has a long-shot chance in changing their lives.

“Who here has heard the question: where do you want to be in five years? Imagine not being able to answer that — with your life in this country revolving on a two-year cycle,” Romero said last week during an online news conference hosted by local DACA advocates.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina and Sen. Krysten Sinema — a former Democrat turned Independent representing Arizona — are working on a last-minute deal before Congress breaks for the holidays that creates a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

In exchange, the bipartisan deal calls for creating legislation that would add $25 billion in increased funding for the Border Patrol and border security, the Washington Post first reported.

Federal lawmakers are still hashing out the bipartisan framework. Part of it calls for extending the Title 42 expulsions until new processing centers are built for migrants. Title 42 is an arcane provision of U.S. health law, which the Trump administration used during the pandemic that allowed asylum seekers to be rejected at the border as their claims were being processed.

Rebekah Niblock, an immigration attorney with the Charlotte Center of Legal Advocacy, said it was tough to see that the bill could extend Title 42. But allowing ”dreamers” who have been here for so many years to finally get their citizenship is important, she said.

“In looking at this possible bill, I do see the huge compromise,” Niblock said. “It is very difficult, but I’m hopeful this bill will pass.”

The legislation could provide some stability for DACA recipients whose lives have been in flux over the past decade, she said.

Judges from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against DACA in October. That decision sent it back to U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, who ruled the program can remain temporarily, with limitations, while he reviews Biden administration revisions made in August.

Niblock said the court decision has frozen applications for newer recipients. Two clients she helped apply for DACA in 2020 remain in limbo as the courts weigh its legality, she said.

“They haven’t even received a denial,” Niblock said. “Their cases are just sitting there with no decision whatsoever.”

There are many who were hesitant to apply for DACA. These people should be taken into account in any proposed bill, she added.

As legal issues persist, North Carolina ‘dreamers’ hope bipartisan deal saves the day

Hope for a promising future for clients like Kevin

Kevin greets you with a shy smile and a kindness that immediately warms your heart.  His journey to the present has not been an easy one, yet he chooses to focus on the good that has brought him here and the bright future that lies in front of him.

Kevin left Honduras to emigrate to the United States with his stepfather when he was 14 years old, leaving behind his mother and younger brother.  His stepfather had encouraged Kevin’s mother, Maria, to allow Kevin to join him for the arduous journey, believing that it would be easier to enter the United States accompanied by a minor. 

“It is very difficult to live in Honduras.  It’s very poor and there is a lot of crime and gangs.  I wanted to come to this country to study and make a better life for my family.”

Kevin’s stepfather assured Maria that he would look out for the young boy, provide for him, and enroll him in school as soon as it was possible.  Kevin said the journey was hard, but he and his stepfather survived without any major problems.  Shortly after they arrived in the United States, things began to change.

Kevin’s stepfather began drinking and would leave him alone to care for himself in their apartment.  He forced Kevin to work a grueling 6-day-a-week job in construction and would not allow him to enroll in school.  One day his stepfather left and never returned. 

Kevin decided to move to North Carolina to live with his uncle in hopes things would be different, but quickly life settled into a similar pattern.  His uncle forced Kevin to work in construction to pay rent and cover other household expenses. He would not allow Kevin to enroll in school.  One day Kevin fell from the second story of a construction job, severely injuring his back.  Because Kevin was undocumented, his uncle was afraid to take him to the hospital and forced Kevin to recover on his own at home.  He eventually returned to work, but he knew it wasn’t sustainable.

Maria connected Kevin with her uncle in Charlotte who assured Kevin that he could support him and would allow Kevin to enroll in school.  In 2020, Kevin was finally able to start school, a memory that brings an instant smile to Kevin’s face. 

Kevin describes his mother’s uncle and now caregiver as a father figure, someone who has created a home and future for Kevin.  It was through his uncle and his uncle’s church that Kevin learned about Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. 

“I would not have been able to afford an attorney on my own because I was not working.  My uncle was willing to help me, but he was already helping me with so much: food, rent, and everything.  It would have been difficult for him to also pay for an attorney.”

Sharon Dove, Attorney and Immigrant Justice Program Director, connected with Kevin and quickly learned the compelling facts of Kevin’s situation.

Sharon was able to pursue a T-Visa on Kevin’s behalf, a form of immigration relief for victims of human trafficking.  Sharon demonstrated to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that Kevin was coerced to enter the United States under false pretenses and was compelled into involuntary servitude.   Kevin was granted a temporary visa that will allow him to become a legal permanent resident.  It will also enable Kevin’s mother and younger brother to apply for legal permanent residency, a fact that brings Kevin tremendous joy and relief.

“Finding the [Advocacy Center] was like winning the lottery for me.  I never thought I could get legal status in this country.”

Kevin eagerly shares that he will graduate from high school this May.  Although his mother will not be able to attend his graduation, she is incredibly proud of all that Kevin has accomplished on his own.  Kevin modestly admits she admires the strength he has shown over the past few years and his dedication to finishing school.  Kevin is not just passionate about learning.  He also excitedly talks about his efforts to help other immigrants in the community, assisting those he can as a translator.  Kevin looks forward to his future and plans to study medicine in hopes of one day becoming a doctor.

When asked to describe the Advocacy Center, Kevin simply calls it, “la casa de esperanza, the house of hope”.

Help us continue to provide hope for young immigrants like Kevin: support the Access to Justice Campaign today!

Advocacy Center Welcomes Federal Court Decision to End Title 42

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy welcomes the decision of US District Judge Emmet Sullivan to strike down the controversial Title 42 immigration policy, a public health law that was manipulated to expel vulnerable asylum seekers at our border.  Judge Sullivan ruled the law was “arbitrary and capricious” and faulted the US government  for “its decision to ignore the harm that could be caused” by issuing the policy.  He reluctantly granted the Biden administration’s request for a stay; the ruling will be on hold until midnight December 21st.

On December 27, 2022, the US Supreme Court granted the motion of states including (but not limited to) Texas and Louisiana to stay Judge Sullivan’s vacatur of Title 42 until a full Supreme Court hearing on the policy can take place.  The hearing is expected to occur in February or March and a final decision is unlikely to be issued until June.

Immigrant Justice Program Director, Sharon Dove commented on the ruling saying, “We firmly believe that it is necessary to lift Title 42 to ensure safe, legal entry to migrants who qualify for asylum.  Allowing this false public health measure to remain in place did not resolve the ongoing crisis at the border and we urge the Biden administration to protect those who need it the most.  We advocate for policies to ensure fair and humane treatment of asylum seekers and pledge to continue our internal efforts to assist asylum seekers in our community.”

After Title 42 is lifted, those seeking asylum in the U.S. will still face an uphill battle. As of January 2022, wait times for an asylum hearing averaged five years.  We must continue to advocate for fair and humane asylum policies, as well as sufficient staffing, resources, and coordination with organizations working with asylum seekers on both sides of the border.  These efforts will ensure due process and the equitable treatment of all people seeking protection.

It’s hard to apply for asylum. This clinic makes it easier for many seeking protection | Charlotte Observer

By DJ Simmons

Read more at: Charlotte legal advocates host asylum application clinic | Charlotte Observer

When Erika Salamanca journeyed to the United States, she brought her daughter on her hip with hope for more opportunities for her child. Desperate to escape gang violence, Salamanca fled El Salvador to the United States seeking asylum. She traveled through Guatemala and Mexico last winter to find safety for her family.

“I just wanted my daughter to have a better future here,” Salamanca, 26, said.

But with a one-year deadline to file for asylum after arriving, navigating complicated forms — especially in a language different from one’s native tongue — is difficult. The process can be discouraging. Some immigrants, likely so focused on surviving, are unaware they need to apply.

Recognizing that, the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy offers a one-day asylum clinic for immigrants and pairs them with lawyers to file their applications, which would increase their chance of success in gaining asylum.

Salamanca was one of 30 participants Friday who came to the center’s East Charlotte office for assistance.

CCLA is the only nonprofit offering this type of pro-se clinic in North Carolina and South Carolina. This was the third clinic held this year by CCLA.

Charlotte legal advocates host asylum application clinic | Charlotte Observer

Courts jostle over DACA, casting a cloudy future for Charlotte ‘Dreamers’| Charlotte Observer

By DJ Simmons

Read more at: DACA rulings leave the program and Charlotte Dreamers’ in limbo | Charlotte Observer

With federal courts jostling over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, its future hangs in limbo — affecting thousands of recipients in Charlotte and across North Carolina.

Recent activity pulled the Obama administration policy back in the headlines — judges from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who ruled against DACA earlier in October, said it needed more review. That decision sent it back to a lower court judge, who now ruled the program can remain temporarily, with limitations, as he reviews Biden administration revisions made in August.

For Marisela Ceniceros, a Charlotte mother of two DACA recipients, a new worry is now front and center — how a potential reversal could affect families like hers.

“Right now because it’s on hold there’s no way to determine if or when DACA will end,” Ruth Santana, an immigration attorney with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, said. “That uncertainty for immigrants is very unsettling to say the least.”

DACA rulings leave the program and Charlotte Dreamers’ in limbo | Charlotte Observer

Protecting Dreamers: Response to Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Remand of DACA Litigation

On October 5, 2022, a federal appeals court found the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, known as DACA, in violation of U.S. immigration law.  The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling that the program was illegal and remanded the case back to the lower court.   The lower court will now consider the Department of Homeland Security’s policy to codify DACA. 

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy calls on Congress to take action to provide permanent protection for “Dreamers”, those immigrants brought to the United States as children.  Since its inception as a temporary measure in 2012, the legal uncertainty surrounding DACA has left “Dreamers” to live in limbo with precarious immigration status.  The fate of the policy should be taken out of the court system and a clear path to citizenship must be created.

As Sharon Dove, Immigrant Justice Program Director shared:

“One thing we hear ‘Dreamers’ tell us is that they can’t take anything for granted. They can’t get attached. Their lives here are not permanent. And that’s just a terrible way that we make them live.”

This new court ruling will leave the current injunction in place, allowing those currently enrolled in the DACA program to renew their status.  However, new DACA applications will not be approved.  Those impacted by this decision are encouraged to contact their immigration lawyer for assistance. 

If you believe “Dreamers” deserve a clear path to citizenship, urge your members of Congress to act to develop permanent protections for immigrant youth:

Tahira, a 17-year-old Afghan evacuee and Advocacy Center client, shares her journey to the US and what it is like to live in legal limbo | Spectrum News

When 17-year old Tahira Askari fled Taliban controlled Kabul last August, she did not know what life would be like for her in America. Tahira and her uncle, Bahroz Mohmand, a decorated Afghan interpreter who supported US military operations in Afghanistan for 10 years, joined Spectrum News on August 17, 2022. The two shared their harrowing journeys and the legal limbo Tahira and other Afghan evacuees now face as the Advocacy Center helps them apply for asylum. The two stressed the importance of the passage of bipartisan legislation known as the Afghan Adjustment Act. The legislation would provide a clear path to citizenship for Afghan evacuees, fulfilling a promise the United States pledged to keep them safe.

“I no longer feel afraid”, Feeling safe and secure after years of instability

Domingo and his family

Domingo is a quiet man who loves his wife and children.  He is respected by his friends and greets everyone with a smile.  He works hard in his job in construction and aspires to open a small business.  And now, after 8 patient years, he is also a legal resident of the United States. 

Domingo emigrated from Mexico in 1998 in hopes of economic opportunity.  If he stayed in Mexico, he knew his job options were scare and the future he could create would be full of hardships.  It was a difficult decision to leave his parents behind, but he said goodbye, not knowing it would be 23 years before they were reunited.

Domingo eventually settled in North Carolina where he met his wife, Esperanza.   Esperanza was recently divorced from her abusive ex-husband and raising her children alone.  They became a family and went on to have children of their own. 

During this time, Domingo found himself living in fear.  His wife and children were all U.S. citizens, leaving Domingo as the only undocumented person in their house.  He worried about being deported and what would become of his wife and children if his undocumented status was discovered.  He knew he needed stability.

Domingo and Esperanza contacted Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy in 2013.  Staff attorneys with our Immigrant Justice Program helped Esperanza file an I-130 petition, establishing her marital relationship with Domingo and started his process to apply for legal permanent residency.  As a spouse of a U.S. citizen, Domingo was eligible to file an I-601A waiver for his unlawful entry into the U.S. in 1998, thereby enabling him to apply for an immigrant visa at the U.S. consulate in Mexico. In 2018, the Advocacy Center was able to submit Domingo’s immigrant visa application, a process that was further delayed by the pandemic in 2020.

If this all sounds complicated and difficult to navigate, that’s because it is.  And if you are an immigrant doing everything you can to work hard and provide for your family, it is downright terrifying.

Domingo and his parents, reunited after 23 years

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.  But in Charlotte, having legal representation to help guide you through this stressful, confusing process is less likely.  In a recent report, only 24% of respondents in Charlotte Immigration Court had legal representation, compared to 60% nationally.  Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is determined to change that.

Armed with the knowledge and experience of the attorneys at the Advocacy Center, Domingo’s immigration process had a positive ending.  In 2021, Domingo traveled to Mexico for the final interview of his visa process and was reunited with his family for the first time since 1998.    He returned to the United Status as a legal permanent resident with feelings of safety and security he never thought possible. He looks forward to applying for his U.S. citizenship in three years.

Learn more about our Immigrant Justice Program and how we support the Charlotte immigrant community.

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.

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.”