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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
This decision emphasizes that DACA is right, and that for DACA recipients and their families: home is here.
Today, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in a 5-4 ruling that said the Trump administration’s reasoning for ending the program was “capricious and arbitrary.”
In the decision for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote: “We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”
Chief Justice Roberts added that the administration could try again if it provided adequate reasons for shutting down the program.
A joint statement from Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Comunidad Colectiva, the Hispanic Federation, Action NC and Latin American Coalition:
Today’s decision is a testament to what happens when directly impacted communities demand change. The Supreme Court sided with the American people- who overwhelmingly support the DACA program- and rejected the decision to deport immigrants who are American in every sense except by law.
This decision protects the lives of nearly 700,000 current DACA recipients, including more than 24,000 in North Carolina, and their families from deportation-for now. This decision affirms what we have always known: immigrants make America great. It comes as our country continues to struggle under COVID-19. During this time, DACA recipients and immigrants broadly have played critical roles in supporting our health systems and economy.
Currently, 29 percent of all physicians, 38 percent of home health aides and 23 percent of retail-store pharmacists are foreign-born. Immigrants also make up a large proportion of essential staff in grocery stores, hospitals, sanitation and transportation. According to the Department of Homeland Security, nearly one-third of DACA recipients work in these essential jobs.
With this decision, DACA recipients and their families can continue to live safely in our community. Nearly 250,000 children in this country have a parent with DACA status. Since the Trump administration rescinded the program in 2017, immigrant youth, their families and allies across the country have been fighting to protect DACA. While this decision gives needed relief for DACA recipients and their families, immigration and deportation threats are far from over.
Charlotte immigration advocacy groups including the Latin American Coalition, Hispanic Federation, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Comunidad Colectiva, and Action NC call on the Trump administration to respect the decision of the Supreme Court and not try to end the program again. The administration must also instruct U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) not to share information that DACA recipients and their families have voluntarily given to the government with ICE.
As we celebrate today’s decision, we also acknowledge how much more fighting for change there is still to do. While this decision is a welcome relief for many, there is still much to be done to protect the DACA program and its beneficiaries. One step is for people to make their voice heard by voting in the November election.
This decision follows weeks of courageous organizing and protests from Black people and allies across the country to demand an end to police brutality, white supremacy and a call to reallocate police resources in ways that strengthen our community safety net. We stand with the immigrant and Black community and commit to fighting for their stability and safety.
Each of our advocacy groups are here to support dreamers and DACAmented individuals during this time. On Thursday, June 18 at 7 p.m., Comunidad Colectiva will hold a Facebook Live with more information about what this decision means and what to expect as we move forward. This victory is for the youth and their families who are fighting the good fight. Today, the Supreme Court stood with the immigrant community, protecting their right to work and thrive in the place they grew up, the place they call home.
Our Asks for Next Steps
- Demand that USCIS immediately begin accepting new DACA applications and continue DACA renewals, restoring the program to its original state before termination.
- Call on Congress to pass permanent protections and solutions that help these beneficiaries, including extensions of TPS work permits, protections from deportation for immigrants, and benefits in any future stimulus package to address COVID-19.
- Call on state and local leaders to get ICE and CPB out of our communities and sign onto our pledge as well as working to provide free COVID-19 testing, treatment and services for all, regardless of immigration status.
- In solidarity with Black people, we call for the investment in community initiatives that strengthen Black and Brown communities, as well as changing laws and enforcement policies to end the systemic mass incarceration of people of color.
- An immediate suspension of the Public Charge rule
Share this message
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of upholding the DACA program today, but the fight to protect DACA continues.
Share this message with your networks and encourage those who need assistance with DACA to contact Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy for more information on what to do next.
Eligibility for Unemployment Insurance Benefits based on Immigration Status
Undocumented workers are not eligible for North Carolina unemployment insurance benefits.
In general, workers must have valid work authorization during the base period used to determine the benefit amount, at the time they apply, and through the entire period they are receiving benefits.
Unemployment Benefits and Public Charge
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security does not list unemployment insurance benefits as public benefits in public charge determinations.
Self-Employed and Independent Contract Workers
Self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers and others who did not traditionally qualify for North Carolina unemployment insurance and were receiving unemployment benefits through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) will no longer be eligible for unemployment after September 4, 2021. Find updates on the program here.
Please note there is a special hotline for PUA applicants, 866-847-7209.
PUA applicants can also call during additional special hours on Sundays from 12 – 5 p.m.
Where can I receive additional information?
Visit the DES COVID-19 help page for more information.
As a member of the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign, a national coalition of organizations fighting to protect immigrant family stability, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has been working to educate the community on the local impact of the Trump administration’s new Public Charge rule.
The rule, which went into effect Feb. 24, expands the types of benefits considered in the “public charge” immigration test administered to immigrants entering the country or seeking permanent residency to determine if they will become primarily dependent on the government for financial support.
This broader definition makes it harder for low-income immigrants to legally immigrate to the U.S. through family-based petitions or adjust their immigration status to become legal permanent residents (become green card holders).
Misinformation around the rule is also creating unnecessary fear for families who are not impacted. Immigrants without legal status do not qualify for most public benefits. Many immigrants with status who do qualify and all U.S. citizen family members are not subject to the rule.
Families are also scared to use resources that are not included in the rule such as Affordable Care Act Marketplace health coverage, local health programs, and school lunches programs.
That’s why families need to seek legal advice and understand their options before making any major decisions.
Medical-Legal Partnership coordinator Elizabeth Setaro has been leading the Advocacy Center’s efforts, appearing in local Spanish media and conducting presentations for families, healthcare providers and community groups that serve the immigrant community.
“Our goal is to help families fight fear with facts,” she said. “When families have the information they need, they can make informed decisions about what is best for their individual situations.”
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s health insurance navigators also participated in a report released last week by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) documenting the harm caused by the public charge rule before it was implemented. The report shows the chilling effect the rule has had on families using public benefits and seeking health care they are entitled to receive.
NILC interviewed health insurance navigators Andrea Mora and Johanna Parra, who provided firsthand accounts of the fear they have observed from families the Advocacy Center serves. Since the rule was proposed, Mora and Parra have had families who were not subject to the rule insist on withdrawing from benefits out of fear that continuing to use them would jeopardize their immigration status.
The sad part of all this is that, mainly, all these consumers are already green card–holders. They are already residents, so some of them will apply for citizenship in a few years, some of them … have been given the green card …. [W]e have to explain, “You are already a resident, you won’t have any problem because this is a proposed rule that will affect from maybe when you are applying for residency, so that is not your situation.”Quote from a Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy navigator featured in “Documenting through Service Provider Accounts Harm Caused by the Department of Homeland Security’s Public Charge Rule” published by the National Immigration Law Center.
This continues to happen even though the rule does not apply to most immigrants.
Now with concerns of COVID-19 spread, families may fear seeking testing or care if they worry about negative immigration impacts.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy continues to monitor the effects of this rule and is available to help families understand their options.
Learn more about Public Charge and its impact on our community:
Tiene preguntas sobre la “carga pública”? Mire esta presentación de Elizabeth Setaro del Centro Apoyo Legal de Charlotte para conocer cómo la carga pública y si afecta a su familia.
¿Qué es la carga publica?
La carga publica se refiere a una ley antigua de inmigración que dice que el gobierno puede negar entrada o la residencia permanente a un inmigrante que probablemente dependa del gobierno en el futuro.
¿A quién aplica la carga publica?
- Personas que ingresan al EEUU con visas de estudiante, laborales o familiares
- Personas con visa de estudiante, laborales o familiar que solicitan ajustar su estatus migratorio al estatus de residente permanente
- Residentes permanentes que salen del país por seis meses o más y buscan reingresar a los EEUU
¿A quién NO aplica la carga publica?
- Asilo o refugiado
- Renovación de residencia
- TPS, visa U, visa T
- Renovaciones de DACA
- Estado especial para inmigrante juvenil
- Personas aplicando para ciudadanía
¿Cuáles beneficios son considerados para la carga publica?
- Medicaid (excepto Medicaid de emergencia, menores de 21 años, mujeres embarazadas y nuevas madres)
- Programa de asistencia nutricional, “estampillas de comida” o “cupones de alimento”
- Programas de asistencia en efectivo (SSI, TANF, asistencia general)
- Asistencia de vivienda como Sección 8 y Vivienda Publica
- La mayoría de las personas sujetas a la regla no son elegibles para beneficios mencionados.
¿Cuáles beneficios NO son afectados por la carga publica?
- Todos servicios no mencionados
- Mercado de salud, obamacare
- Almuerzos escolares
- Dispensas de alimentos
- Asistencia de cuidado infantil
¿Qué va a pasar si uso beneficios?
- El uso de beneficios no lo hará automáticamente un cargo publico
- Los oficiales de inmigración deben examinar todas sus circunstancias para determinar si es probable que dependa del gobierno en el futuro.
- Edad, salud, ingresos, educación, habilidades, otros
- Factores positivos se pueden medir contra factores negativos
¿Use beneficios en el pasado, como me afectan los cambios?
- Los cambios en la ley NO son retroactivos
- Solo cuentan beneficios recibidos empezando el 24 de febrero
- Beneficios recibidos antes de esa fecha siguen las reglas antiguas
¿Un familiar recibe estos beneficios, me afecta a mí?
- Beneficios recibidos por los dependientes de un solicitante no pueden considerarse en la evaluación de la carga pública del solicitante
- Incluir su nombre en la aplicación de su hijo NO significa que ha solicitado beneficios para usted
In 2010 …
Charlotte was recovering from the Great Recession, which had destabilized thousands of people through job and home loss that eroded financial security.
As a result, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy saw the overall community need for legal assistance increase by 15%, including an overwhelming need from families facing foreclosure.
The Recession’s effects continued to be felt throughout the decade to shape our community, to define the issues of economic mobility and inequity we fight to address, and to steadily impact the people the Advocacy Center serves today.
As we mark the passing of a critical decade for Charlotte, we’re taking a look back at the work we’ve done to build a more just community for everyone in the Charlotte region.
Our name was Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, a name we had been operating under since 1978.
Number of staff: 19
Today we are Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy! In 2017, we changed our name and celebrated 50 years of service.
Number of staff: 50
Our new name reflects our commitment to providing both individual legal representation and systemic change to advance our mission of pursuing justice for those in need.
Growth to Address Systemic Problems in a Changing World
Since 2010, we’ve launched several projects to meet increased demand for assistance, creatively address the root causes of poverty and support our community’s most vulnerable populations, including:
- Carolinas Medical-Legal Partnership: addressing social determinants of health to improve outcomes for Atrium Health patients.
- Veterans Legal Services Project: meeting specific legal needs of former service members and their families to ensure access to benefits earned while serving our country.
- Immigration Assistance Project: providing free legal screenings and assistance to applicants in Charlotte’s Immigration Court.
- Health Insurance Navigator Project: helping consumers understand their options in a complex, changing health insurance landscape while ensuring access to health care under the law.
- CPPC Single Stop Educational-Legal Partnership: supporting students as they pursue economic mobility by helping them overcome civil legal barriers to their education.
- Community Redevelopment Project: promoting focused economic development, stable housing and entrepreneurship in targeted communities.
- Senior Health Care and Abuse Prevention Project: protecting seniors from physical and emotional abuse, as well as financial exploitation, while ensuring access to health care.
Access to our legal system
Life altering decisions are made every day in our civil legal system that directly impact a person’s chance at a stable life and opportunity.
Despite the gravity of these decisions, no one is guaranteed legal representation in civil legal cases, leaving only those who can afford an attorney with true access to justice.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and legal service organizations across the country fight to provide equal justice for all in a legal system that is currently inaccessible for those who lack the money and resources to navigate it.
Federal funding for legal service organizations through the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) peaked in 2010. The funding increase was necessary to support legal service organizations assisting an increasing number of people while having lost key funding resources during the Recession. Funding has not increased since, despite the fact 25 percent more people qualify for legal assistance today than in 2007.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy does not receive LSC funding (learn why), but we advocate for sustained and increased funding for our partners that do, such as Legal Aid of North Carolina.
A 2014 impact report from the N.C. Equal Access to Justice Commission showed that 2.2 million North Carolinians qualified for civil legal aid services and 80 percent of civil legal needs of low-income people went unmet.
Despite these unmet needs for civil legal aid, the N.C. General Assembly eliminated $1.7 million in funding for the Access to Civil Justice Act that enabled the state’s legal service organizations, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Legal Aid of North Carolina and Pisgah Legal Services, to help people navigate their way out of crisis.
Today, the gap between access and justice is still wide:
- 1 in 3 Mecklenburg County residents is low-income.
- 71 percent of low-income people experienced at least one civil legal problem in the last year,
- Only 14 percent received the legal help they needed to address their problem.
- In Mecklenburg County, there ONE legal aid attorney available to every 11,500 low-income residents between the Advocacy Center and Legal Aid.
Affordable housing and protection from housing displacement
By 2010, the Advocacy Center was assisting families who were fighting foreclosure and trying to put their financial lives back together in the wake of the global financial crisis. When the housing crisis peaked in 2009, more than 12 million homeowners were experiencing negative equity across the U.S.
Today, the Advocacy Center helps families and communities navigate Charlotte’s affordable housing crisis as more people struggle to find and remain in affordable places to live. That assistance includes foreclosure prevention; defense against unfair and deceptive sales and purchases; property tax relief; and impact litigation on behalf of tenants to ensure safe and habitable housing conditions under N.C. law, including a class action lawsuit on behalf of residents of Lake Arbor Apartments.
Welcoming Immigrants into Our Community
Charlotte’s Immigration Court opened in 2008 to serve applicants from North and South Carolina. The Advocacy Center’s Immigrant Justice Program began serving applicants who could not afford legal assistance in the court, which quickly gained a reputation as one of the most hostile in the country.
With the Immigration Working Group, the Advocacy Center began the Immigration Assistance Project in 2010 to help unrepresented people in the court, providing consultation, education and referrals to assist them in court proceedings. Since its creation, it has been a vital legal resource to thousands of people that is not available in most immigration courts.
Today Charlotte’s Immigration Court continues to be one of the most hostile courts for applicants seeking immigration relief with judges known for their high denial rates.
By 2014, violence and instability in Central America generated a wave of unaccompanied migrant children traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum, safety and reunification with family already living in the U.S.
The Advocacy Center launched the Safe Child Immigrant Project to ensure these children had an advocate.
Without our intervention, these children would have had not have had legal assistance to make their case for asylum, special immigrant juvenile status or other forms of relief they were entitled to receive.
Due to an overwhelming backlog, the first green cards from many of these cases were finally granted in 2018, allowing these children and their families to remain safely in the U.S. without fear of return to dangerous situations in their home countries.
This victory is a stark comparison to the current reality for thousands of children seeking relief at the U.S. border. They will not see the same outcome under current federal immigration enforcement, even though they have endured the same hardships and have the same valid claims for relief as these new green card recipients.
The Advocacy Center remains a presence in Immigration Court serving as a legal resource for individuals who otherwise would not receive any assistance and an advocate fighting to ensure dignity, fairness and due process for applicants.
The Advocacy Center fought to maintain public benefits that stabilize families, while also ensuring access to them with increased demand for social support after the Recession, including SNAP benefits (food stamps) and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Today, the Advocacy Center is still fighting cuts and policies that destabilize families at the federal and state level, while helping families understand what is available under changing laws and policies.
Since 2018, the Advocacy Center has fought changes to the federal Public Charge rule to consider use of public benefits to determine approval for people seeking to immigrate to the U.S. or applying for a green card to become legal permanent residents. Confusion and fear surrounding the rule change has led local families who are eligible to receive public benefits to forego support out of fear. Federal courts halted the rule’s implementation in October 2019, and the Advocacy Center continues to monitor ongoing litigation.
Our Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic is educating N.C. taxpayers on new regulations stemming from federal tax reform passed in 2018, while continuing to help taxpayers protect themselves from scams and fraud.
In conjunction with a new state law changed the waiting period for expunging non-violent misdemeanor and felony criminal convictions in 2017, the Advocacy Center began helping Mecklenburg County residents apply for removal of non-violent, eligible offenses from their criminal records. This project sought to remove barriers to economic mobility that come with having a criminal record. In FY19, we assisted 217 people to expunge criminal records in N.C. and advocated for passage of expanded eligibility for expungements in the N.C. General Assembly.
In 2016, the Advocacy Center partnered with Central Piedmont Community College’s Single Stop program to provide legal assistance that helps students overcome barriers to their education and pursue economic opportunity. In the first two years, the partnership provided $72,855 in legal assistance while obtaining or preserving $103,462 in public benefits for students and their families.
Access to quality, affordable health care
The Advocacy Center has been litigating to ensure families have the health care they are entitled to receive under the law through major cases, including:
- Pashby v. Cansler, later Pettigrew v. Brajer: The lawsuit, initially named Pashby v. Cansler, was filed in 2011 by the Advocacy Center, Disability Rights N.C. and the National Health Law Program, alleging that the state violated federal Medicaid law and the Americans with Disabilities Act by determining eligibility for personal care services under more restrictive criteria for people living at home than for those who live in institutional settings known as adult care homes. A settlement was reached in 2016, allowing vulnerable citizens who need health services to safely remain in their homes and have their services restored.
- Pachas v. NCDHHS: The Advocacy Center brought the case on behalf of a terminally ill man, who had been the primary provider for his wife, two young daughters, and elderly in-laws. Pachas was trying to support his family on Social Security disability benefits before eventually qualifying for Medicaid benefits that covered his medical treatment for a stroke and a brain tumor. Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services determined Pachas’ income was above the federal poverty level based on the level of an individual, not for a family, and required him to pay a large deductible on his Medicaid benefits. In 2018, attorneys argued before the N.C. Court of Appeals that the state was violating federal Medicaid law in applying its definition of family size to determine eligibility for benefits. The N.C. Supreme Court heard arguments on the case in 2018 and unanimously ruled in favor of the Center to vacate the Court of Appeals ruling. The case is now with the Court of Appeals for a ruling on the merits of the case.
- Hawkins v. Cohen: The Advocacy Center and the National Health Law Program filed a lawsuit in federal court in 2017 to stop illegal terminations of Medicaid benefits in North Carolina that resulted in a preliminary injunction and a certified class action. The improper actions included due process violations, failure to reasonably accommodate the disabled, and creating barriers to access for recipients with limited English proficiency. The class action is ongoing. As a result, the state changed its computer system earlier this year to stop Medicaid coverage from automatically terminating when a county worker does not timely complete a required eligibility review. Under this programming change, Medicaid coverage for more than 124,000 cases was extended in the past two months that would otherwise have been terminated without notice.
With the first open enrollment season for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Advocacy Center launched the Health Insurance Navigator project to help consumers understand their options and get the health care they needed under the new law.
Since 2013, we’ve helped thousands of people understand their options and get health coverage, while reducing the state’s uninsured rate. The navigator project has been recognized as a national model and received a visit from Sylvia Burwell, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, in 2015.
At the end of 2019, our health insurance navigators completed their seventh open enrollment season, helping residents in Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Union counties understand their coverage options in a changing healthcare landscape to select health plan that meet their individual needs and budget.
The ACA included opportunity for states to expand their Medicaid programs and close the coverage gap for low-income people to insure all Americans. The Advocacy Center began advocating for expansion of the state’s Medicaid program in the N.C. General Assembly, which has failed to act. Expansion would insure an estimated 500,000 NC residents who make too little to afford private health coverage but too much to receive financial assistance paying for coverage. Expansion also would have lowered overall health costs for residents and spurred an estimated $2.9 billion in business growth by 2020.
Today we are still urging the N.C. General Assembly to expand Medicaid so that more residents have access to health care. Residents like Allan.
The N.C. General Assembly approved changes to the state’s Medicaid program in 2015 that privatized the administration of the program. The Advocacy Center has been working with providers and beneficiaries to make sure they understand what the change means and how to continue receiving health care. The Advocacy Center is also monitoring the change to ensure access under the law. The implementation of the new program was supposed to take place in fall 2019, but it has been delayed due to the legislature’s inability to pass a budget.
Protection from exploitation
To improve quality of life and ensure independence, the Advocacy Center has worked to empower seniors through education, legal representation and specific services that enable them to remain self-sufficient, their property unencumbered and their finances protected through the Legal Services for the Elderly program and other projects.
The Advocacy Center’s Consumer Protection program has continually worked to protect low-income people from scams and bad actors taking advantage of vulnerable groups who lack access to resources to understand their rights as consumers.
Immigrants have historically been targets for exploitation in our country. The current administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy toward immigrants who are undocumented has exacerbated their vulnerability and stoked fear in families, regardless of immigration status.
For 12 years, Mecklenburg County’s 287(g) program facilitated hundreds of deportations by assisting federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in implementing federal immigration enforcement at the local level. The voluntary program directed police to target, arrest and hold residents living in our community without a legal immigration status.
This practice tore families apart, made immigrants vulnerable targets and eroded trust of law enforcement, all while diverting local taxpayer funds away from public safety to enforce federal immigration policy, which is outside the jurisdiction of local law enforcement agencies. The Advocacy Center has long believed this policy has harmed our community by undermining public safety, depriving individuals of due process, wasting county resources, and exposing tax payers to potential legal settlements.
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Gary McFadden ended the 287(g) program in late 2018 after winning election on the issue. In 2019, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the N.C. General Assembly’s mandate that local sheriffs cooperate with ICE and honor detainer requests. The Advocacy Center continues to monitor local and state policies that negatively impact immigrants in our community.
In 2018, the Advocacy Center fought against ICE presence in our courts after officials arrested a woman and her 16-year-old son at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, leaving her 2-year-old child behind in the court’s day care center as they took her into custody and placed her in deportation proceedings. This woman, Maria, and her son are survivors of domestic violence who were appearing for a hearing in their case.
The arrest became part of a national dialogue on how ICE activity in courthouses negatively impacts public safety and the ability for crime victims, especially victims of domestic violence, to seek justice.
The Charlotte Immigration Court later terminated her deportation case with the support of ICE, allowing Maria and her family to remain in the U.S. as they pursued a U-Visa, which provides protected status to victims of crime. The victory came after months of negotiation with ICE through the partnership of Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Comunidad Colectiva and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.
In response to increased ICE activity since 2017, the Advocacy Center has partnered with community groups, including Action NC, Comunidad Colectiva, El Puente Hispano and the Latin American Coalition to help individuals understand their civil rights and provide emergency planning for families in the event of family separation through arrest and deportation.
A decade of justice
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has covered a lot of ground over the last 10 years, but the gap between access and justice remains wide.
In the decade ahead, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy remains committed to closing that gap by building a more just community where all are treated fairly and have access to legal representation to meet their basic needs and thrive.
In 2020 and beyond…
We will always fight to ensure
- Access to our legal system
- Affordable housing and protection from housing displacement
- All feel welcome in our community
- Economic mobility
- Access to quality, affordable health care
- Protection from exploitation
While the means to accomplishing our mission will change with the needs of our community, our resolve to pursue justice for those in need remains constant. Because we believe …
justice lives here.
YWCA Central Carolinas recognized Natalie Marles with the Emerging Leader Award during its Woman of Achievement Awards event Oct. 17 for her work ensuring marginalized people have access to health care, knowledge and justice.
The annual awards event honors three generations of women who exemplify the YWCA’s mission of eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
An immigrant from Bogotá, Colombia, Marles is committed to social justice, merging her work life as a paralegal-advocate for Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and personal life working for the needs of the Hispanic and Latinx community with the goal of fostering inclusion within the greater Charlotte-Mecklenburg community.
Marles helps low-income individuals get their criminal records expunged through the Advocacy Center’s Community Redevelopment Project, which focuses on improving economic mobility, stable housing and entrepreneurship in targeted communities in the Charlotte area. Criminal record expungements expand economic mobility by clearing misdemeanor offenses that often prevent individuals from pursuing employment and housing opportunities.
Through the Advocacy Center’s Know your Rights and Power of Attorney community workshops Marles has helped immigrants understand their constitutional rights and worked to ensure these rights are upheld. She has become a trusted face in the immigrant community through her professional and personal work.
Marles joined Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy in 2016 as a health insurance navigator helping individuals and families, including immigrants and Spanish speaking residents, understand their health coverage options to enroll in plans that best fit their individual needs under the Affordable Care Act.
After finding limited health services for the Hispanic community in Cabarrus County, Marles established a nonprofit organization called El Puente Hispano (the Hispanic bridge) with other community leaders in 2017 to provide programs that provide support and improve physical and mental health for the Hispanic community in the Charlotte area.
Marles began her local volunteerism serving as a triage nurse and health promoter for Bethesda Health Center after moving to the area from Miami in 2009. She also spent two years volunteering as a Guardian Ad Litem, giving children impacted by abuse, neglect and abandonment a voice in Cabarrus County.
Marles is a member of the Enlace Charlotte, formerly The Latin American Council, board of directors. She is also part of the Mecklenburg County Latino civic engagement and last year helped launch the campaign “Latino tu voto cuenta” (Latino your vote counts) encouraging people to understand the importance of civic engagement and participation in the democratic process.