Posted April 4, 202010:43 pm
The Immigration Legal Services Fund was created through the Cleveland Foundation in 2018 to addresses the urgent needs of our region’s immigrant population. One of their initial grants was for Legal Aid’s immigration practice.
At Legal Aid, three full-time staff attorneys and a paralegal focus on immigration cases. In collaboration with Catholic Charities, the attorneys make regular trips to area jails, where they present “Know Your Rights” sessions for inmates and conduct intake sessions to determine if anyone qualifies for free legal assistance.
The success stories from this program are truly remarkable. One example is the story of Elena, a single mother with four little girls (name changed to protect client privacy). She had been living in Northeast Ohio for 15 years before she encountered any issues with her immigration status. In 2019, a neighbor called the police to report a heated argument between Elena and a family member. Because Elena speaks Spanish, the police suspected that she may not be a U.S. citizen. When they confirmed Elena was undocumented, the police officers called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Elena was promptly transferred to ICE custody and detained at the Geauga County jail to await a hearing before the Cleveland Immigration Court. Suddenly, Elena was separated from her four daughters (who were U.S. citizens) and at risk of deportation.
Elena had suffered domestic abuse both in her home country of Honduras and in the United States. She worked as a childcare provider in her own home and had no criminal record. Legal Aid attorney Corrylee Drozda met with Elena and determined she qualified for “cancellation of removal,” which would require proving: 1) she has lived in the United States for at least 10 years; 2) is a person of good moral character; and 3) her children would suffer “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” if their mother was deported.
Attorney Drozda worked to ensure justice prevailed. Elena now is a lawful permanent resident, has been reunited with her daughters, and can continue making a positive contribution to her community without fearing she will be separated from her family again. Had Legal Aid not won this case, Elena’s children would have been forced to either live without their mother or leave their home for a place they’ve never lived – a place where their mother would have been at risk of harm by her former abuser, who still lives there.
Legal Aid is incredibly grateful for all of the generous donors who fund this important work, which truly transforms lives and promotes a more just, equitable, and compassionate Northeast Ohio.