August 2011

Client Story

Originally from Peru, Alejandro first came to the United States on a visitor visa for his brother’s wedding in 2001. After some time, he was offered a scholarship to attend a technical school in the area. Alejandro, who is gay, hired someone who he thought was an immigration attorney to assist him with his immigration paperwork. However, it turned out that the man was not an attorney and as a result Alejandro was unable to get legal status and lost hundreds of dollars in the process. It is often harder for gay and lesbian immigrants to obtain legal status in the United States because they are not privy to some of the same paths to legalization as heterosexual immigrants, such as marriage to a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident.

Ten years later, Alejandro still had no legal status but was grateful to be living near his brother and his wife in Virginia. His mother had passed away several years before, so he was glad to remain close to his most immediate family. Last year, around Thanksgiving, Alejandro had agreed to meet a friend at a local bar. What started out as a fun night ended up as a nightmare for Alejandro. He awoke in the morning in a hospital, having been beaten nearly to death. A stranger had found him left for dead at a park and called the police. He was taken to the hospital by helicopter where doctors performed surgery to save his life.

While recovering, Alejandro worked with police, who located and prosecuted the attacker. As a victim of a violent crime and because of his collaboration with the investigation, the detective on the case recommended that Alejandro apply for a U visa. Alejandro visited another nonprofit organization, which referred him to Just Neighbors.

After her initial interview with Alejandro in April, our volunteer attorney began gathering all the necessary papers and evidence for his case. She was able to obtain the certification from the detective confirming the incident and Alejandro’s cooperation with the police and then went about gathering police and court records, medical records, proof of income, and other documents to support his case. In the meantime, Alejandro gathered affidavits from his family and friends and wrote his own statement of the incident, most of which were written in Spanish and translated by Just Neighbors volunteers. The entire case was compiled and mailed out in July.

Alejandro has recently received notice from USCIS to submit his fingerprints for a background check, which is the normal next step in the process of receiving a U visa. He will then have to wait several months to see if his petition is accepted, which will provide him authorization to work and a path toward a green card.

Around the Office

From Allison Rutland Soulen, Director of Legal Services

I’m home! I’m deeply grateful to the Board and staff of Just Neighbors for enabling me to spend 14 months away from the office. My family and I had a splendid time travelling in Europe and spending the school year in St. Andrews, Scotland. Although I experienced a bit of what our clients go through in living in a foreign country, I won’t go so far as to claim that the Scots speak a foreign language.

It is grand to be back home and back in the office. I was able to touch base with friends and family via email and Skype, but I missed having contact with clients. A client walked in during my first week back and said “you look just the same, you have to come to my wedding.” I haven’t been able to provide status to this client (yet), but by inviting me to his wedding he showed that he knows that I care about him as an individual, without regard to his immigration papers. That is the “high” of this work that I missed during my time away.

Allison back at work, wearing an Ethiopian dress given to her in gratitude from the mother of a client.

Thank you!

On August 3rd, 24 Just Neighbors staff, volunteers, and friends watched the Washington Nationals play the Atlanta Braves. Foley & Lardner law firm, which has provided hundreds of pro bono hours on dozens of Just Neighbors cases over the years, donated their box suite to us for the day. It was a wonderful chance to take an afternoon off from the busy summer and relax at the ballpark.

This month, Just Neighbors received a generous donation of office furniture from Womble Carlyle Sandridge and Rice, PLLC, in DC. The company, which was moving locations into a furnished office, provided Just Neighbors with four high-quality desks, a dozen chairs, filing cabinets, credenzas, and more. Womble Carlyle also provided for the delivery and set-up of all the furniture. We are thoroughly enjoying the upgrade!

Volunteer of the Month

Theresa Meehan graduated from Trinity College in Connecticut in May and has been volunteering at Just Neighbors three days per week since then. She assists around the office with a variety of tasks, including translation work and phone intakes. In addition to her interest in immigration issues, Theresa also has a passion for the environment, and has helped Just Neighbors evaluate some of its internal practices so that we can become more green.

Just Neighbors Primary Signature-Reverse-01

The mission of Just Neighbors is to provide immigration legal services to low-income immigrants and refugees in Virginia, especially those who are most vulnerable. We also seek to foster enriching experiences that enhance awareness and mutual understanding among our clients, volunteers, staff and community.

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