“This means that you will represent us; we are not going to be alone in this?” The young man and his wife couldn’t believe that after everything they had been through to come to the U.S. and everything that they had tried to do to do to “fix” their papers that someone was actually going to help them for free. It was so hard for them to believe that they kept asking more questions to be sure: “We don’t have to pay anything else; you are an immigration lawyer; there is no other cost?”
Juan and his wife had come to the United States fleeing the gang violence in Central America and had asked for asylum in the United States. They went through all the initial steps, they asked for asylum when picked up at the border, they completed their “credible fear” interview with an immigration official and then each paid $10,000 for bond to be released to live with their relatives and await their court dates. Their families had raised the money to pay for their bond and so they had been working ever since to pay them back; it took three years. In the meantime, they had both stayed abreast of their court dates.
After they had paid all of their relatives back, they were able to pay an “attorney” that a friend had recommended to help them with their asylum case. This “attorney” had told them that he had filed an asylum claim for them but they realized they had never signed any papers even though they had already paid him $4,000. They had never received any receipts or evidence of their filed paperwork. They had been victims of fraud. Their boss, a member of one of the United Methodist Churches on the Eastern Shore had recommended that they come to the Just Neighbors clinic to talk with a lawyer. “We weren’t going to come; we were afraid, but he told us we should try.” They were so grateful that they did.
Even though Mary Elizabeth, the Just Neighbors attorney, was very clear to them that all she could do at first was to research their case, they were so relieved to have someone guiding them; someone they could trust. Mary Elizabeth didn’t want to get their hopes up but she would do everything she could to offer them the best possible options for them. The volunteer who worked with them at the clinic was also part of the church. When the interpreter explained to the couple that the United Methodist churches had brought Just Neighbors to the Eastern Shore because they wanted to help their neighbors and that all of the people helping today were volunteers from this area, their eyes lit up. There was a real connection on both sides of the table. The volunteer told the couple, “It has been a dream for us to do this [hold a legal clinic] for a long time; we are so happy it finally happened.” This Saturday both the volunteer and the clients saw each other as neighbors; both were neighbors they could trust.