‘Break that vicious cycle. Lessons as public defender key to Toussaint Romain’s new role

BY LAUREN LINDSTROM

Charlotte NC-As Toussaint Romain settles into his role as Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s new chief executive, the clients he represented for a decade as a criminal public defender are never far from his mind. When clients used to walk into his office, he could anticipate all the economic and civil matters that might have led them to his door. A past eviction, revoked driver’s license or unresolved immigration issue often lingered in a client’s history, threatening their economic stability.

Romain joined the nonprofit legal firm and advocacy organization in mid-May as its new CEO, a role he was drawn to as a way to tackle these upstream legal issues that often trap low-income people in cycles of poverty and thwart economic mobility. “Folks are desperate. They have criminal records, can’t get jobs, don’t have housing,” he said.

Romain, who was most recently deputy general counsel for Appalachian State University and spent a decade as a public defender in Mecklenburg County, said returning to Charlotte for this role continues the work he’s fought for his entire career — providing essential access to legal representation and resources for vulnerable residents to achieve upward mobility. “We’re really trying to break that vicious cycle by providing the resources, legal information and legal advice” that people need, he said.

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‘The least we can do.’ Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy hosts asylum application clinic

Charlotte NC-The Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s offices in east Charlotte were filled with lawyers and immigrants working together to file asylum applications on Saturday.

After people enter the country and are detained at the border, they generally have one year to file for asylum through an I-589 form. Though people can file the applications themselves without the aid of an attorney, legal assistance drastically improves their chances for success in immigration court.//accepted

This weekend’s clinic is the first of its kind in North Carolina, CCLA immigration attorney Rebekah Niblock said, though similar clinics have been held throughout the country.

Though the clinic’s participants won’t be legally represented by the CCLA in court, it’s a way for the agency, overburdened with requests, to expand its reach and serve more clients without having to turn anyone away.

“We can’t accept everyone,” Niblock said. “But the least we can do is help them get their applications out.”

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Thousands of immigrants seek asylum in Charlotte court. Nearly all will lose.

Charlotte N.C.- “Stand up and raise your right hand,” Judge William Riggs said.

He looks expectantly at a Central American man in front of him, who’s wearing headphones to listen to the Spanish interpreter to the left of Riggs. Before she finishes translating, Riggs raises his own right hand to demonstrate the action.

After the man takes an oath, a baby, in the wooden benches designated for observers, starts whining. The mother bounces her knees up and down, attempting to soothe the child.

The immigrant’s lawyer explains his claim, and at one point, Riggs rests his chin in his hand.

It’s about 9 a.m., and this is the first of dozens of asylum cases he’ll hear that day. Once the lawyers finish, he either assigns a later individual hearing or orders the respondent removed from the country.

All of this takes place in Charlotte’s immigration court, located in a mundane office building in east Charlotte. There isn’t a sign outside to identify it, and once inside, you have to take a rickety elevator to the fourth floor — just three floors above an immigration law firm.

That’s where anyone in the Carolinas has to go to claim asylum, and its four judges are some of the strictest in the country.


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