Legal Aid helps clients get more stable immigration status in the United States. Legal Aid serves:
- Domestic violence survivors
- Victims of trafficking and other serious crimes
Immigration Law Matters We Handle
- U Visas for victims of serious crimes
- T Visas for victims of human trafficking
- Violence Against Women Act petitions for survivors of domestic violence
- Family Petitions
- Visa Processing
On June 15, 2012 Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano issued a memorandum stating some individuals who came to the United States as children will qualify for “deferred action” for a period of two years. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is not a path to citizenship but does defer removal action (deportation proceedings) for an individual and allow the individual to apply for a “work permit”. With a valid work permit an individual may get a social security card and driver’s license or state ID. The initial two year period may be renewed for qualifying individuals.
To qualify for deferred action under this program, the individual must:
- have come to the U.S. under the age of 16;
- have continuously resided in the U.S. for at least five years preceding June 15, 2012 and are present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012;
- be in school currently, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED certificate, or are honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the U.S.;
- have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety; and
- not be above the age 30 on June 15, 2012.
Applications for DACA are now being accepted. Applicants may still apply if they have pending petitions or applications for other relief, such as a U Visa.
U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services information about DACA:
Websites that include information about DACA, lists of DACA workshops, and a preliminary self-screening tool:
As a U.S. Citizen you may petition for your spouse, parents, siblings, and children (married or unmarried) to get legal status in the U.S.
As a Permanent Resident (“green card” holder) you may petition for your spouse and unmarried children to get legal status in the U.S.
As a detainee your rights include:
- Talking to an attorney about your case at your own expense
- Asking for release from custody on bond
- Contacting your country’s Consulate or Embassy
- Contacting your family members
- Medical care, food, visitation privileges, telephone access, marriage requests and religious services
There are several advantages to becoming a U.S. Citizen, including:
- Ability to petition for your relatives (parents, siblings, married children) to get status in the United States
- Ability to work for the U.S. government
- Right to vote
- Ability to spend more than six months a year outside the United States
- Stability of status in the United States
You may be able to get legal status through something called the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”).
Spouses and children of abusive U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents (“green card” holders) may be able to get legal status in the U.S. without their abuser knowing.
Parents of abusive U.S. citizens may also be able to get legal status in the U.S. without their abusive child knowing.
You may use Form G-639, a Freedom of Information Act Request, to ask for a copy of your Immigration file.
You may also ask for a copy of your FBI file by sending the Federal Bureau of Investigations your fingerprints.
Attend a brief advice clinic.
Legal Aid helps refugees on path to citizenship
July, 2011 – Immigrant clients have always been an important part of The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland’s history and legacy – many of Legal Aid’s first clients in 1905 were recent immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Poland. More than one hundred years later, Legal Aid serves many refugee clients immigrating to the United States from countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. They come to the United States because of a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country. In addition to helping with an immigration case, Legal Aid helps immigrants with a variety of other civil matters, ensuring safety, shelter and access to the justice system.
Louise Mugongo, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a former Legal Aid client. DR Congo, which has seen decades of violent conflict between various factions, has been called the center of “Africa’s world war.” The fighting caused Ms. Mugongo and her husband Pfukama Sebazungu to flee to the refugee camps of Zambia. Ms. Mugongo worked as a nurse in the camp’s HIV clinic. Mr. Sebazungu tried to find work as an aviation engineer, but faced continual harassment from employers and colleagues because of his Congolese background. The couple’s best option for a stable life was to emigrate to the United States as refugees.
Meanwhile, Tom Mrosko, Director of Cleveland’s Catholic Charities Office of Migration and Refugee Services, had traveled to Zambia to conduct research. Catholic Charities partners frequently with Legal Aid to provide access to justice for immigrants – especially refugees. By chance, he was working in the same room of the same clinic where Ms. Mugongo screened patients for HIV. After a few days working side-by-side, Mr. Mrosko learned Ms. Mugongo’s story. He told her he was unable to get her to the United States, but if she ever immigrated, she was welcome to settle in Cleveland.
In 2006, Ms. Mugongo and Mr. Sebazungu were finally granted refugee status by the U.S. government. They were offered a choice between Las Vegas and Cleveland. The couple didn’t know anyone in Las Vegas. They knew Mr. Mrosko in Cleveland. Working under the auspices of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities annually helps 300 refugees find housing, clothing, furniture and employment. Mr. Mrosko says, “They are forced from their homes, they are resettled, and that’s where the U.S. steps in. This is the last step on their journey.” Catholic Charities also helped the couple connect with Legal Aid, for help with adjustment-of-status. Legal Aid’s Volunteer Lawyers Program hosted a clinic at which Ms. Mugongo and Mr. Sebazungu received help from the C. Lyonel Jones Pro Bono Immigration Committee.
Now the couple has a two-year old daughter, Jane, and recently naturalized to become full-fledged U.S. Citizens. In 2010, Ms. Mugongo graduated cum laude with a nursing degree from Cleveland State University. Ms. Mugongo reflects on the past several years and says simply, “This has been a big blessing.”
Do you or someone you know speak a language other than English (including American Sign Language)? Do you or they have trouble understanding and speaking English? If you answered yes to these questions, you have a right to an interpreter if you have to go to court. Persons with limited English skills should tell court staff right away that they need an interpreter. Once the court knows an interpreter is needed, then the court must provide one.
On January 1, 2013, the Ohio Supreme Court began following Rule 88. With this rule, the court must provide certified interpreters who know how to interpret in civil and criminal court for non-English speakers. Not all bilingual persons are qualified to interpret in court; special skills are needed.
Other agencies that get federal funding must provide interpreters according to the law. Some of them are:
- Legal aid, public defender, prosecutor and law enforcement;
- Public and charter schools;
- Public housing authorities;
- Federal agencies such as SSA, VA, and IRS;
- State agencies such as Department of Job and Family Services, Child Support Enforcement Agency, and Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
If you ask for an interpreter in court or at these agencies and you do not get one, you should ask to speak with a supervisor or ask where you can file a complaint. If an interpreter is still not provided, you may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) by sending a letter or using the DOJ’s complaint form. In the letter or on the complaint form explain when and how they did not speak to you in your language or provide you an interpreter. Make a copy of the complaint or letter for your records. Send the complaint or letter to:
Federal Coordination and Compliance Section – NWB
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530
You may also contact the US Department of Justice at:
(888) 848-5306 – English and Spanish (ingles y español)
(202) 307-2222 (voice)
(202) 307-2678 (TDD)
This article was written by Legal Aid volunteer attorney John Kirn and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 1. Click here to read the full issue.