EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Several law firms and nonprofit organizations are partnering with the Mexican Consulate in El Paso this week to provide free legal services to immigrants.
Webinars and one-on-one consultations will cover issues ranging from suing an employer for lost wages, filing domestic violence charges, and advising on immigration matters. The partnership for this first-ever External Legal Advice Week targets a Mexican population who cannot afford a lawyer and who often face abuse due to their immigration status.
“We struggle with notaries: people who are not lawyers pretending to be lawyers and charging clients a lot of money,” said Kenneth J. Ferrone, executive director of Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico. “We find ourselves having to fix damaged cases because someone who took on a case doesn’t understand immigration law. [….] There are serious consequences if they make a mistake; we saw people deported.
Immigrants often place too much trust in public notaries, say US advocates, because in Mexico a notary is a state-appointed authority who oversees civil transactions such as the sale of property.
In-person sessions are from 10 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays at El Paso Community College’s Valle Verde Campus Annex C, 919 Hunter Drive. Online sessions are held throughout the week on the consulate’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. An in-person session from 5 to 7 p.m. is scheduled for Wednesday at the Kennedy Community Center, 400 S. Zaragoza.
“It is essential for anyone dealing with the immigration system to have legal representation,” said Melissa Lopez, executive director of Diocesan Services for Migrant Refugees. “If we don’t make those resources available, what happens is people are going to rely on the comrade (a close friend), proximity (a neighbour) or someone who’s been through the process before, and we know that’s not a good resource for people. »
Advocates said residents of rural enclaves are particularly cut off from legal advice. Thursday’s in-person session is scheduled at the Ramirez Community Center in the Sparks Community, 106 Peyton Road; Friday is at the Women’s Intercultural Center in Anthony, New Mexico. Both sessions run from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
According to the US Census Bureau, nearly one in four residents of El Paso County (23.9%) was foreign-born, and the overwhelming majority are from Mexico.
Not all legal issues in this border town involve immigration. Mexican immigrants also need advice on issues such as child custody disputes, criminal proceedings, civil disputes and violation of labor rights, Vice Consul General Ricardo Hernandez said.
“We are very satisfied with our partners, very professional people willing to help us provide these services for free,” Hernandez said.