An organization in Waite Park received a special recognition award last month from The Advocates for Human Rights, based in Minneapolis, for its work providing legal clinics to asylum seekers in central Minnesota.
Fe y Justicia, a Latinx-led faith-based organization also known as the Faith and Justice Coalition, launched the clinics in September when organizers saw an increased need for asylum assistance. Latinx is a gender-neutral term for “Latino” or “Latina”.
While Fe y Justicia director Ma Elena Gutiérrez originally planned to hold the clinics quarterly, they have since been held almost monthly due to demand.
Human rights advocates were invited to attend the November clinic in part because of the growing number of people in the St. Cloud area seeking help navigating the asylum process, said Sarah Brenes, director of the refugee and immigrant program at The Advocates for Human Rights.
About 70 to 80 percent of people visiting one of the clinics were asylum seekers, Gutiérrez estimated. A large proportion of asylum seekers last year are people fleeing political persecution in Nicaragua, Brenes said.
The goal when meeting people at the clinics is to get them to where they are in the asylum process when they arrive to submit their asylum application that day, Brenes said. The Immigration Court has improved in providing pro se or self-help resources, but these are not always easy to find, and information about the court process is often in English or not available. not provided to asylum seekers, Brenes said.
“There has been a kind of collaboration to both provide people with the technical assistance they need to file their legal claims and then help equip Fe y Justicia to be a permanent local resource in the community, which doesn’t provide legal services, but can connect people with more information,” Brenes said.
At the clinics, The Advocates for Human Rights can help community members file same-day asylum applications. The hope is that by doing so, they will be on their way to obtaining work authorization so they can support themselves and then can hire a lawyer to help them complete their case, said Brenes.
“We coordinated with Fe y Justicia to identify individuals, think about ways their engagement can help reduce barriers to accessing the admissions process, clinics, and also equip them to help address certain basic public information matters, especially when people are in immigration court proceedings,” Brenes said.
Fe y Justicia has taken the initiative to be a resource for newcomers seeking asylum in the community and advocated for clinics to start and make them accessible, such as providing transportation and interpreters, Brenes said. . Finding community leaders with whom The Advocates for Human Rights can partner is key to making services available to more communities in the state, Brenes said.
Gutiérrez would like to see more asylum services regularly available in the Saint-Cloud area in the future so that residents do not have to wait for clinics to receive help and can better meet application deadlines. asylum.
Gutiérrez has known The Advocates for Human Rights for more than a decade and brought people to their office in the Twin Cities, but the clinics were the first time the organizations worked more directly with each other, Gutiérrez said.
Other service providers at the clinics include Tripiciano immigration attorney Laura Tripiciano, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid Supervising Assistant Attorney, St. Cloud, Tracy Roy, the James H Binger Center for New Americans and the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center.
For Gutiérrez, his work on clinics has spanned more than a decade.
“I think from 2008, I started organizing. At first, I didn’t know, I didn’t understand what was being organized, I didn’t know. It was just, I just saw the need,” Gutiérrez said.