A Few of Our Favorite Things From 2018

Favorite Things 2018 logo2018 was certainly a blur for us at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, and 2019 promises to be just as busy.

Before we jump into the new year, we’re taking time to look back at a few of many advancements Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy made this year in the fight for justice for ALL.

Green Card FiestaGreen Card Fiesta

After years of waiting in a backlogged system, 20 of Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s immigration clients received their green cards to become legal permanent residents in the U.S. These clients were some of the first cases Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy took from the surge of unaccompanied migrant children seeking asylum and protected immigration status from Central America in 2014 and 2015. Read more


Property Tax ClinicProperty Tax Relief Fights Gentrification

Last spring, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy partnered with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership to host tax relief clinics to ensure homeowners in gentrifying neighborhoods can afford to continue living in the communities they helped create and develop as property values and the taxes on them rise. Read more

287gCommunity Education: Know Your Rights

In partnership with community groups, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy hosted several community teach-ins in response to rapidly changing immigration policies in 2018. These efforts helped the community understand on how national immigration policies are impacting Mecklenburg County residents, especially the controversial 287(g) program that defined this year’s election for Mecklenburg County Sheriff. Read more

Reach Out ExpunctionREACH OUT Expunctions

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy was proud to partner with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department in 2018 to break down the barriers to economic mobility and opportunity that come with having a criminal record by helping graduates of its REACH OUT program apply to get their records expunged. Read more

NC Supreme CourtSystemic Advocacy All the Way
to the N.C. Supreme Court

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s systemic work has been critically important in 2018, impacting a wider scope of NC residents beyond the organization’s direct individual legal services. Read more

ICE Courthouse ProtestICE Drops Case After Courthouse Arrest

In November, the Charlotte Immigration Court terminated the deportation case with the support of ICE, following the arrest of a mother and her son at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse in July. The mother and son were appearing in court for a domestic violence case in which they were the victims. allowing Maria and her family to remain in the U.S. as they pursue a U-Visa, which provides protected status to victims of crime. Read more


Triage TrainingCharlotte Triage Pro Bono Project Supports Health Insurance Enrollment

In September, Charlotte’s legal community joined our Access to Justice Pro Bono Partners Program in launching the Charlotte Triage Pro Bono Project to address unmet civil legal needs in the community, including evictions; criminal record expunctions, which can make it hard to find work; and assistance with health insurance enrollment. Read more


Tax FormsSavings for Low-Income Taxpayers

Through its Western NC Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy saved low-income taxpayers almost $400,000 in liabilities reduced or avoided for the 2017 tax year. The tax clinic provides legal representation to taxpayers in disputes with the IRS who are low-income or speak English as a second language to ensure their rights as taxpayers are upheld.


Wills ClinicSimple Wills on Wheels

In addition to providing simple estate planning services through its Legal Services for the Elderly program throughout 2018, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy served 55 people during Simple Wills on Wheels events at the Shamrock Senior Center last spring with the help of local volunteer attorneys. Read more

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Submit Comments Against Dangerous “Public Charge” Proposal

Yesterday, the Federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published for public comment proposed changes to the “public charge” rules that will effectively overhaul our nation’s immigration system to restrict immigration access based on income. The proposed rules target immigrants legally seeking permanent resident status in the U.S. forcing them to choose between family unity and their ability to access basic needs such as food, shelter and health care.
A public comment period is now open through December 10. Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is calling on all community members to submit comments opposing this dangerous proposal. Share this message with everyone you know and encourage others to submit comments. The federal government must read every comment submitted. On the first day of the public comment period, more than 2,500 comments were submitted nationwide. Our government has to hear from thousands more individuals explaining how this proposal goes against our shared values as a nation of immigrants and hurts our communities.
What is “public charge”? “Public charge” is a longstanding immigration rule which allows the government to deny entry or permanent residency if they determine that immigrant is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for financial support. For decades, the only public benefits considered under public charge have been cash assistance and long-term institutional medical care at the government’s expense.
What are the proposed changes? Under the new rule, the list of public benefit programs that can be considered is radically expanded to include the following vital assistance programs: Non-emergency Medicaid (with some exceptions), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy, and housing assistance like Section 8 and Public Housing.
The draft also proposes harsh new income thresholds that applicants, even those with sponsors, will have to meet to avoid a public charge assessment. A family of four would need to earn over $62,750 to avoid a public charge assessment. The rule also explicitly states that an applicant’s inability to work because of age, either being too young or too old, or disability, will be a significant negative factor in their public charge assessment.
Federal law provides some protections from this harsh proposal for humanitarian-based immigration applications such as refugees, asylees, victims of trafficking, violence, or crimes, and some other categories, who are exempt from the public charge test and can receive benefits without impacting their immigration status. Another safe guard is that benefits, such as food and medical assistance, received by an applicant’s dependents cannot be considered in the applicant’s public charge assessment.
However, this rule is a dangerous departure from our country’s proud identity as a nation of immigrants seeking the American Dream’s promise of opportunity earned through persistence and hard work.
Instead, of welcoming the “tired, poor, huddled masses” of the world, this rule would prohibit all but the wealthiest from accessing our immigration system and the freedom, hope and opportunity it provides. Read more
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New Public Charge Rule Hurts Families

Proposed Changes Will Hurt Families, Communities

This week, the Federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will release proposed regulations that will drastically change the “public charge” rules that apply to immigrants legally seeking permanent resident status in the U.S.

If the proposed rule is finalized, this change would be a dangerous departure from policies established to support families. For more than 100 years, the U.S. government has recognized that social supports like health care and nutrition help families thrive and remain productive, and the government has long clarified that immigrant families can seek health and nutrition benefits for eligible families without fear of harming their immigration case.

If this rule is finalized, families will no longer have that assurance.

For several months, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has been working with families who are afraid to use public assistance programs they are eligible to receive due to fears that using those benefits will harm their ability to adjust immigration status or even get them deported.  This rule will only create more confusion for these families already living in fear and make them more vulnerable to exploitation.

We are certain that many more families will decline critical access to nutrition, healthcare and housing they are eligible to receive if these new proposed changes go into effect. If finalized, this harsh rule will place unnecessary strain on community resources as more families struggle to remain stable.

What we know:


The proposed rule expands the types of benefits considered to include those supporting basic needs like health, food, income and housing including:

Medicaid (except for “emergency Medicaid” and certain disability services related to education)

  • Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps)
  • Benefits provided for institutionalization for long-term care
  • Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program
  • Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, and
  • Public Housing.

Public benefits not included:

  • Emergency medical assistance
  • Disaster relief
  • National school lunch or school breakfast programs
  • Foster care and adoption
  • Head Start
  • Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP or SCHIP)
  • Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit
  • Subsidized health insurance under the Affordable Care Act
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • Housing assistance, or
  • Energy benefits.
  • Unlike leaked versions of the draft rule, the proposed rule DOES NOT consider U.S. citizen children or other dependent household members using public benefits. This means their continued use will NOT affect a parent or family member’s application for immigration status.


Some immigrant groups are not subject to “public charge” at all:
Public charge is NOT a consideration when lawful permanent residents (green card holders) apply to become U.S. citizens.

Certain immigrants, such as refugees, asylees, survivors of domestic violence and other protected groups are not subject to “public charge” and would not be affected by this proposed rule.

The proposed rule also makes it clear that it will not apply to deportability at all, meaning that immigrants who already have a form of lawful resident status cannot be deported for use of any public benefit. The proposed rule does say that the Department of Justice may release its own criteria for deportation, but it has not done so at this time.

This rule will still harm low-income and working families across North Carolina. The latest public charge draft rule still seeks to undermine a family-based immigration system, using executive rules to penalize immigrant families who earn low incomes.

Regardless of whether they use any public benefits under the proposed rule, working immigrants can still be penalized just for having an income under 125 percent of the federal poverty line. The rule makes it clear that there will be broader, additional scrutiny of an immigrant’s economic situation, considering their credit history or lack thereof.

And having a financial sponsor is no longer guaranteed to ensure that an immigrant’s application for status will be approved. Immigrants who work hard every day in all facets of our state’s workforce, including agriculture, construction, caregiving, and hospitality, will be penalized just because they do not earn a living wage.

We still need your comments to oppose this damaging rule.
When the proposed rule is published, a 60-day public comment period will begin. You can prevent this change from happening by submitting comments opposing this rule and asking your networks to do the same. You can let policy makers know that these changes will negatively impact the health and well-being of local children, their families and our communities.


Join our campaign to protect immigrant families. Building a strong community means helping families thrive. This rule only ensures a poorer, sicker, hungrier community. Family safety and unity should not have to come at the expense of stability.

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Consumers Beware During Hurricane Season

Consumer scams are common during and after natural disasters, like hurricanes.

As N.C. residents prepare for the threat of Hurricane Florence, we at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy urge consumers to also be wary of potential scams as they ride out the storm.

Here are some tips from consumer attorney Ed Byron:

  1. Price gouging is illegal during a state of emergency in North Carolina.
    Charging unreasonably excessive prices for goods and services used to protect life and property in a state of emergency is prohibited in North Carolina. If you suspect a business is price gouging its customers, contact our office or the North Carolina Attorney General’s office right away.
  2. Do your homework on home work and charities!
    Do some research before hiring a contractor to repair storm damage or donating to a charity offering to aid disaster victims. Be sure your money is going to a reputable business or organization.
  3. Don’t ignore the red flags
    Avoid anyone using pushy, high pressure tactics to get your business or donation. If you are solicited at your home and pressured into entering into a contract for roof repair or tree removal for example, you may have the right to cancel for up to three days after you sign the contract.and finally,
  4. We are here to help!
    If you think you may have been the victim of a scam or have questions, please contact Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. Contact us by phone at 704-376-1600.



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Calling All Pro Bono Volunteers!

Join Us Sept. 5 for the Charlotte Triage Pro Bono Project Kickoff

On September 5, our Access to Justice Pro Bono Partners Program is launching the Charlotte Triage Pro Bono Project to address a wide range of unmet civil legal needs in the Charlotte area.
What: Charlotte Triage Pro Bono Project Kickoff
When: Wednesday, September 5, 2018
  • 3 p.m. Program kickoff
  • 3:15 p.m. Speaking program
  • 4 – 5 p.m. CLE Trainings in housing, expunctions of criminal convictions, and health insurance enrollment through the Affordable Care Act
    (Note: Housing CLE will run until 5:30 p.m.)
  • 5 – 6:30 p.m. Networking reception

Where: The Ritz-Carlton, 201 East Trade Street, Charlotte NC 28202

Pre-registration by August 29 is required.
Early partners for this project include:
Atrium Health
Bank of America

Bradley LLP
Brighthouse Financial

Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy
Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated
Compass Group, North America

Duke Energy
Husqvarna Group
K&L Gates LLP
Legal Aid of North Carolina – Charlotte
Moore & Van Allen
Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP

Parker Poe
Polypore International – Asahi Kasei Corporation
Robinson Bradshaw
Troutman Sanders

Wells Fargo, N.A.



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Legal Assistance Helps CPCC Students Find Opportunity

Janessa CCLA WebJanessa, 21, had been taking classes at Central Piedmont Community College in hopes of earning a degree that will put her on a better path in life when she walked into the campus Single Stop office last fall.
A few years ago, she found herself hanging out with the wrong friends and making bad decisions that resulted in misdemeanor charges for larceny and drug possession. The charges were ultimately dismissed, but they remained on her record. She had no idea that these mistakes would follow her into her adult life. It wasn’t until she started applying for jobs that she realized she had a criminal record.

She remembers interviewing for a local retail position and sailing through the three interviews necessary for the job.
“I was doing great, but then it came down to them asking if I had any problems with them running a background check,” Janessa says. “I knew what they would find, so I told them about the charges.”
She didn’t get the job. Every time she filled out a job application, the necessary background check was her barrier – to employment, to a stable income, to opportunity.
A friend told her about the legal assistance Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy offers to students through the Single Stop program. She met with an attorney not knowing if she could even get assistance,. She was surprised to learn she was eligible to have the charges removed from her record by applying for an expunction.
With the help of her attorney, she applied and waited six months for a decision from the state.
In April, a few weeks before graduation, she got the answer that would ultimately open the door to opportunity.
Her application had been approved, and she no longer had charges listed on her criminal record.
“Now I can do anything,” she says. “The whole world is open to me.”
After years of trying to put her mistakes in the past, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy helped Janessa find a fresh start as she heads out into the world with her degree in hand and a determination to succeed.

Learn more about our work through the Single Stop Program.

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ICE in Our Court Threatens Public Safety, Disrupts Pursuit of Justice

As community partners, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and Safe Alliance work together every day to ensure the safety and rights of immigrants who are survivors of domestic violence.

Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials entered the Mecklenburg County Courthouse to arrest a woman and her 16-year-old son, leaving her 2-year-old child behind in the court’s day care center as they took her into ICE custody and placed her in removal proceedings. This woman and her son are survivors of domestic violence perpetrated by a U.S. citizen.

Our organizations are deeply concerned that the continued presence of ICE at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse will negatively impact the willingness to report the crime of domestic violence and threaten overall public safety in our community.

Many immigrant domestic violence survivors we assist have been abused, threatened, manipulated and controlled by an abusive partner as they have settled in the United States.  Abusers often attempt to manipulate immigration officials and the courts, using these systems as a tool to further control and psychologically abuse their victim.

The survivors we work with often share stories of perpetrators who threaten to have them jailed or deported if they seek help. It’s also common for perpetrators to fabricate criminal accusations against victims to maintain power and control over them and their children.

We are working with law enforcement and our courts to ensure abusers are not allowed to exercise these tactics and that immigrant victims of crime are able to pursue justice safely in Mecklenburg County.

Similar ICE arrests have increased in courts across the country over the last 18 months even though state supreme court justices have asked the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to end this practice, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s description of an individual’s right to petition for redress of grievances in court as “among the most precious of the liberties safeguarded by the Bill of Rights …”

Allowing ICE in our courts deliberately threatens this right and our public safety. The court cannot function if victims, witnesses, and criminal defendants risk deportation simply by coming to court.

Our courts can only serve our community effectively when individuals feel safe coming forward to seek help. The threat of ICE in the court has a chilling effect on immigrants, and its confirmed presence will certainly deter willingness to report crime, silencing survivors of abuse, disrupting the pursuit of justice in our courts and endangering public safety.

Imagine if a loved one couldn’t report the crime of domestic violence or sexual assault because doing so would rip your family apart. No one should be forced to choose between these terrible options.

That is why Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and Safe Alliance believe safety must be our community’s top priority, and we will work together with our partners, advocating against ICE presence in our court.

Download this statement

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We Can Do Better: End Zero Tolerance; Support Family Safety

As a champion for those in need, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy fights for family unity every day. We condemn the Trump administration’s  “zero tolerance” policy, which has led to the mass separation of children from their parents when they cross the U.S.-Mexico border fleeing unspeakable violence and trauma in their home countries.
There is no law that requires the Department of Homeland Security to separate families. Today, the president admitted as much when he issued an  Executive Order directing the Attorney General to request that the Flores settlement be modified to allow entire families to be detained in immigration prisons during criminal prosecutions. Since 1997, the Flores settlement has prohibited the U.S. government from jailing migrant children.  
This is unacceptable. If the Flores settlement were modified in the manner proposed by the president, then children would be jailed while their parents are prosecuted. Furthermore, altering the Flores settlement will allow the administration to keep families in prison while they fight their asylum cases – which can take years. The Flores settlement arose because of the inhumane conditions families were being held in. Many of these parents and children are asylum seekers. This is an attempt to prevent Central Americans from availing themselves of our asylum laws, or to punish them for seeking asylum by keeping them incarcerated. The solution to this crisis is for the Trump Administration to stop its “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting every migrant attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
Once released from detention at the border, many of these children will arrive in Charlotte to await proceedings before the Charlotte Immigration Court. As Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy prepares to offer them legal assistance, here are additional policies that will impact these families:

Asylum Defense

Last Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued  an opinion overturning protections for victims of domestic violence seeking asylum in the United States. This opinion will require many asylum seekers who are victims of domestic violence and gang activity in Central America to appeal their cases multiple times, resulting in certain deportation for immigrants without attorneys. Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy represents many children and some adults in domestic violence and gang-related asylum claims. The Attorney General’s opinion has made our representation more difficult and will require additional resources.

Protecting Sponsors

Since 2011, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has been an Office of Refugee Resettlement approved site for the completion of the required background checks necessary for a child to be released from custody to a sponsor. In addition to the background checks, we provide a legal orientation for the sponsors explaining the immigration legal process the children will be subject to. These sponsors are almost always family members of the children. In the event they are not family members, there is a requirement that the sponsor have a pre-existing relationship with the child’s family.

In April, the administration changed these procedures to not only collect fingerprints from potential sponsors, but also fingerprints of any other adults in their households with no guarantee that the information won’t be used for immigration enforcement.These enhanced requirements have created a chilling effect, forcing families and sponsors to ensure the release, safety and well-being of these detained children at the risk of exposing their own immigration status to the federal government. As potential sponsors choose not to accept this responsibility out of fear, children remain in overcrowded shelters. The average duration of stay has risen from 34 days in December 2016 to 57 days. Under this policy, the wait will only grow longer.

Access to Legal Representation

Regardless of what plays out at the federal level, these children and their families will
need legal representation. NO ONE, not even a small child, has the right to legal representation in immigration court. 

Many of these children’s cases will be processed here in Charlotte’s Immigration Court, adding to the already great need for legal assistance here. These cases will add to the more than 300 open cases Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy currently has for unaccompanied children, most of whom, have been subjected to some form of trauma over the course of their young lives. They have witnessed horrific violence or been subject to it in their home country or on their long journey to the U.S. These cases will take years to process through an overburdened immigration court system.

As a community and nation of immigrants, WE CAN DO BETTER.

How to Help

Contact your representatives. You have the power to change this narrative. While the administration has full power to end this policy on its own, Congress is considering legislation that will force the administration to change course as well as enact stronger immigration laws. Urge members of Congress to vote down the two anti-immigrant bills moving through the House this week: one proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte and another proposed by House Speaker Paul Ryan. Neither bill adequately addresses family separation and child detention, nor does it offer a lasting solution to the administration’s decision to end DACA. A vote is expected on Thursday, June 21.
Share this message. Circulate this information and share on social media to let your networks know what is going on. The deliberate separation of families is a moral crisis that we as a community must condemn.
Stay informed. Join us for a community teach-in on what happens to unaccompanied children when they arrive in Charlotte and learn about ways to support them in our community. Monday July 2 U.S. Border Community Teach-in Presentation
Sign up for ACTION ALERTS for updates on policy changes as they develop.
Learn more about our Immigrant Justice Program.
Support our work. We fight for family safety, economic security and stability for all people, regardless of immigration status, but we can’t do it without you. We are the largest non-profit provider of legal assistance to immigrants in North and South Carolina. When you give to Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, your contribution goes directly toward our mission of pursuing justice for the most vulnerable in our community.

Give today. Change tomorrow.
Become a champion for those in need.

Donate Now


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Your Voice Strengthens Consumer Financial Protections

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is requesting public feedback about its consumer complaint process and how it handles consumer complaints by Monday, June 4.

To date, the CFPB has received over 1.5 million consumer complaints. The complaint database is invaluable to consumers; their advocates; and, our clients. It is often the most efficient and effective way for consumers to resolve problems with large financial institutions.

The complaint process with the CFPB has allowed our consumer attorneys to more effectively advocate for consumers in foreclosures by requiring servicers to respond to complaints about mortgage servicing, loss mitigation, excessive fees and other issues within 15 days after they are contacted by the CFPB. Many times, that will be enough to resolve an issue and save a consumer’s home.

The complaint process also allows advocacy groups to track recurrent problems with various companies and financial institutions. The complaint process gives consumers a recourse when they are treated unfairly or they are victims of predatory practices or illegal fees. Since 2008, the CFPB has returned $11.8 billion in relief to consumers, largely as a result of its complaint process that provides the starting point for any enforcement work.

Comments to the CFPB made be made by clicking their link here:https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/newsroom/cfpb-issues-request-information-consumer-complaint-inquiry/


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Detained by 287g

Detained by 287gThe future of the 287g program is on the ballot in the primary for Mecklenburg County Sheriff as residents go to the polls today. For 12 years, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Department has chosen to participate in the 287g program, a voluntary formal agreement with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to assist in implementing federal immigration enforcement at the local level by targeting, arresting and holding residents living in our community without a legal immigration status.

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy believes these policies have caused great harm to our community by undermining public safety, depriving individuals due process, wasting county resources, and exposing tax payers to possible legal settlements. After 12 years and more than 15,000 deportations in Mecklenburg County because of 287g, it’s time to terminate the program and find solutions that promote community safety while protecting immigrant families.

2018-5-8 Immigration debate in North Carolina election has national implications

Watch immigration attorney Maureen Abell talk about her client’s experience with 287g on the NBC Nightly News.




Ernesto (name changed to protect the client’s identity.), 19, is one of thousands who have been negatively impacted by the 287g program. He came to the United States three years ago from Honduras.

The waves of gang violence sweeping the country has broken his family and his community. As a young teenager, he witnessed the gangs target and murder his father’s side of the family. When his father was ultimately kidnapped and killed, he faced hard choices: join the gang or die.

Instead, he fled; leaving behind his surviving family and the life he knew in hopes of finding safety elsewhere, hopefully in the United States.

Along the way, he met up with others trying to reach the U.S.-Mexico border. They stuck together assuming strength in numbers would offer more protection from the danger they would encounter throughout the month-long journey, using any means of transport available to them.

“When we were crossing in a boat, the boat sank, and two girls died,” he recalls.

Gangs they encountered along the way were just as dangerous as those he fled. A mother and daughter in their group were robbed and raped.

He arrived at the border in Brownsville, Texas, where he was detained after presenting himself to border officials.

“There was no sense of me running,” Ernesto says. “I would have been in more trouble.”

‘Try Not to Go Back’

Because he was a minor when he arrived in the U.S., Ernesto was able to go live with his step-grandfather in North Carolina while waiting for his immigration case to move through the backlogged immigration court system.

He came to Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy for assistance with his case in the Charlotte Immigration Court.  Immigration attorney Maureen Abell advised him to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, a legal immigration status that protects children who are victims of abuse and violence in their home countries. With this status, Ernesto would be able to apply for and receive a green card, enabling him to remain in the U.S. and build a safe and stable life.

As he waited for his application to be processed, he tried to adapt. It was hard. He didn’t speak English or understand aspects of his new community, but it was still better than the consuming violence in Honduras.

“It’s not easy,” he says. “You try the best you can to not go back.”

He tried going to school, but only went for a year.  There wasn’t much assistance or patience for a teenager who didn’t speak English and had a limited education.

He applied for a work permit and soon found work in construction, working on major projects around the Charlotte region.

His case was moving forward, and he had a strong case for receiving a green card that would offer him the path to U.S. citizenship.

That all changed last fall when Ernesto was riding in a car that was involved in a hit and run. He and the others in the vehicle were arrested after they fled the accident.

“They ran, and I ran too,” he says. “That’s how I got in trouble.”

He couldn’t afford to pay the $2,500 bond and remained in the Mecklenburg County Jail.

By the next day, he had a hold from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the 287g program, a voluntary agreement Mecklenburg County has with the federal government to arrest immigrants without legal status and house them in its jail before transferring them to ICE custody.

Because he had already been working with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Ernesto knew he had an application for legal status pending and he sought advice from his attorney. Abell advised him to stay in jail and seek additional legal assistance from a criminal lawyer.

“I knew ICE would come and get me if I got out,” he says.

Abell says Ernesto was lucky because he had access to legal assistance that helped him understand his options.

“He didn’t even know he needed a [criminal] lawyer,” she says. “I was able to make sure he knew who to call, and he got really good help.”

He remained in jail until an eyewitness account proved he was not the driver and cleared him of his charges. By that point, Ernesto had spent three months in jail, waiting.

He learned that his charges would be dismissed and that he would be released next day. Instead, ICE agents came to the jail and picked him up.

“They got me, and they wanted me to sign my voluntary departure,” Ernesto says. “I didn’t want to sign.”

After already spending three months in jail for charges that were ultimately dropped, Ernesto was detained by ICE officials under the 287g program and spent an additional three months in an immigration detention facility.

A voluntary departure would have sent him back to Honduras and certain death. When he refused, ICE transferred him to Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, where the conditions were “very bad” and the guards taunted him.

“I didn’t feel safe,” he says. “The guards made fun of us because we were here ‘illegally.’”

He spent eight days in the same clothes. When he asked guards for something else to wear, they laughed at him and said, “just go buy some.”

When Abell found out Ernesto had been detained, she traveled to Stewart to advocate for his release, which only came after three months of detention at a bail price three times higher than what he would have paid in Mecklenburg County.

Abell shakes her head at how quickly situation escalated after Ernesto’s arrest under the 287g program: “[The police] didn’t ask about his legal status beyond, ‘Were you born here?’ He had documentation on him at the time explaining that he had a green card pending. They should have known he had a case pending. They put a voluntary deportation order in front of him instead.”

Ernesto’s story is one of thousands behind the 287g program that the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Department has participated in since 2006. More than 15,000 people in Mecklenburg County have been deported since the program’s inception. While the Sheriff’s Department highlights deportations involving people convicted of violent crimes, the majority have involved people charged with minor offenses, all while eroding trust in law enforcement from the immigrant community.

“Supporters of 287(g) would have us believe that the program only effects dangerous or violent criminals, but if we look at the all the cases referred to ICE, we know it’s broader than that,” Abell says.

Instead Abell says the program only works to accelerate deportations of people like Ernesto, not to improve overall public safety in Mecklenburg County.

For this reason, only 60 counties across the U.S. participate in the program. It’s also why Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy supports ending the program.

“ICE was notified when he was arrested and charged, despite the fact that he had an immigration case pending,” Abell says. “When his charges were ultimately dropped, he was still held so that ICE could get him, despite his legal situation.”

“No Life. No Future”

Even though the past six months have been a nightmare, Ernesto realizes how lucky he is in so many ways. He’s lucky to be alive, to have escaped gang violence, to have family in the U.S. that cares for him and to have advocates, like Abell, fighting for his continued safety.

He also knows he wouldn’t have gotten far trying to fight his legal battle alone.

“Without an attorney, I would still be [in Stewart],” he says.

And if he had remained in the detention facility without an attorney, there would have been little he could do to avoid deportation, even with a pending green card application.

At the thought of returning to Honduras, Ernesto stares at the floor and takes a deep breath: “There’s no life, no future. My brother was murdered on Saturday. They burned down the house. I don’t know where the family is. The same would happen to me.”

Ernesto is one of hundreds of people in need of legal help assisted each year by Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s Immigrant Justice Program. Without Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, there are few resources and options available for free and low-cost legal help in the immigrant community.

As the largest non-profit legal service provider practicing before the Charlotte Immigration Court, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy continues to stand with our immigrant neighbors, advocating for inclusion and fairness under the law to ensure their safety, security and stability in our community.

Read the community letter Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy signed in support of ending the 287g program.

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