Yesterday’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program over the next six months disrupted the lives of nearly 800,000 young people and their families across the country.
DACA has provided temporary relief from deportation and work authorization to qualifying immigrants since the program began in 2012. Those who qualify came here with their families as children and have since assimilated into our communities, growing up to contribute as hard-working neighbors.
For most of these young people, the United States is the only home they have ever known. They are citizens in every sense except by the letter of the law.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is disappointed to learn this news because we know first-hand the value these “dreamers” bring to our community and our local economy as we work with the immigrant community to uphold human rights, ensure fairness and protect people from exploitation.
Since 2012, we have helped 155 people in our community apply and qualify for this status, which enables them to pursue their dreams like any other American by allowing them to attend college and to seek employment without the threat of deportation.
DACA recipients enrich our community and are an essential part of the local economy as business owners, employees and consumers, who pay taxes into a system of benefits from which they will never be entitled to receive as non-citizens.
They support their families, which include parents, siblings and their own children, most of whom are U.S. citizens.
Stripping the ability to work and pursue an education from DACA recipients and threatening deportation after they willingly divulged personal identifying information to the government shows no regard to the families at the heart of this issue. More broadly, doing so establishes a terrible precedent of exclusion that undermines our country’s values of justice and fairness.
The fates of these young people and their families should not be used as a political bargaining chip between the Trump administration and Congress, especially when family safety, security and stability is on the line.
There is a better approach.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy urges Congress to pass the bipartisan DREAM Act introduced in the U.S. Senate this past July. This legislation would offer these dreamers the opportunity to become citizens in the country they call home. The bill also offers solutions and protections for undocumented young people who do not qualify for DACA, but also arrived in the U.S. as children. You can do the same by contacting members of your Congressional delegation.
In the meantime, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy stands with dreamers, their families and the broader immigrant community, advocating on their behalf for a fair and sensible immigration system that promotes family unity and provides opportunities for immigrants to pursue a path to citizenship.
What is DACA
(Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)?
- DACA is a temporary status that offers protection from deportation and eligibility for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors to attend college or to apply for a work permit.
- It is a two-year program that requires regular renewal with the U.S. government.
- To qualify, applicants must meet the following criteria:
– Under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012;
– Arrived in the U.S. before turning 16;
– Lived continuously in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 until the present;
– Physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 and at the time of
– Came to the U.S. without documents before June 15, 2012, or lawful status
expired as of June 15, 2012;
– Currently studying at or graduated from high school, earned a certificate of
completion of high school or GED, or have been honorably discharged from the
military (technical and trade school completion also qualifies); and
– Must NOT have convictions of a felony, certain significant misdemeanors
(including a single DUI), or three or more misdemeanors of any kind.
- The Process
– Applicants must consult a qualified attorney before submitting any application to immigration authorities. Families often must be able to afford an immigration attorney to even apply. Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, and other legal service organizations help people who could qualify, but can’t afford to pay an attorney.
– Applicants must collect documents that prove one’s identity, birth, country of origin, presence in the U.S. as of June 15, 2012, continuous residence in the U.S., and a clean criminal record among other supporting documents to meet DACA criteria.- Applicants must complete applications in a process that requires filling out several forms.- Applicants must submit applications with supporting documents, photos and payment of a $495.00 application fee.- Applicants must undergo a background check and get fingerprinted.- Applicants must wait to receive a final decision in six to eight months.
What you can do to help:
- Attend upcoming events on immigration and other policies that affect our clients and community
– Monday, Sept. 18, 6:30 p.m. St. John’s Baptist Church,
Hear immigration attorney Maureen Abell talk about the impact the DACA rescission and other changes to immigration policy has had on Charlotte over the last year.
- Encourage friends and family members to make their voices heard in the deliberation process. Now is the time to speak up and advocate on behalf of yourself, your neighbors and your community.
- Sign Up for Action Alerts and follow us on social media to stay informed.
- Make an investment in your community and support our work by donating to Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. You can direct your gift to the DACA Support Fund which directly covers costs to applicants renewing their protected status. Your gift to this effort will also be MATCHED up to $25,000 by a generous donor in our community.
This post was written by Abby Mitchell, a summer intern for Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s development team. Abby is a rising senior at American University.
I sat in an old-fashioned leather office chair as an intern at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, formerly Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, and asked a routine question: “How did you come to work here?”
Ted Fillette, senior attorney of the Legal Aid of North Carolina Charlotte office, sat across the table, a lifelong advocate for housing rights in North Carolina whose work began as an attorney for Legal Services more than 40 years ago. As a veteran in the fight for social justice, he symbolizes hope that it is possible to advocate for and enact change, make it sustainable, have a lifelong occupation in the process.
He looks across the table and promises to compress the story to a minute and a half: “When I was in college at Duke in 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King came to speak at the campus and I was a freshman. Having come from Alabama, I lived in a completely segregated community. I had no idea what was going on in my state. It was shocking to me and it changed my life. It made me want to do something about it. The question was, when, where, and how?”
I’ve been reflecting on that statement ever since. More than his dramatic story of getting the landlord-tenant legislation he drafted passed into law, effectively protecting the rights of thousands of North Carolinians, or his impact in Charlotte over his career, I’ll remember that sentiment he expressed.
When I went to off to college in 2014 and left St. Louis, my hometown, riots over the Michael Brown shooting were erupting just miles away in Ferguson. I remember that feeling Ted had described. The shock of uncovering neighborhood segregation in St. Louis, the question that followed, “What now?” and even today, the “When, where, and how?” of it all.
As my senior year of college looms, these questions remain, in anxiety inducing bursts. The process of figuring out the answer to that question is a long and challenging one for any young person, but I think it’s especially hard if you’re aiming to make a difference.
Many of these young people, like me, come to Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy to see what making a difference looks like even in the mundane, day-to-day moments. As I write this on my final day as an undergraduate development intern, I can tell you that no matter what you work on here, you’ll find a passion and commitment for the mission of pursuing justice up close, and if you’re like me, that fire will catch in you too.
A couple weeks into my time here I met Matt Freeze, a summer associate for Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, for lunch. He told me about his previous experience advocating on behalf of children’s rights in Washington, D.C. and his current position as a development director of a nonprofit for abused children in Rowan County.
He shared his summer experience helping disabled individuals trying to get benefits from insurance companies. I asked him what he wanted to do after he finished law school and he told me he wanted to work with a legal services organization or with the elderly, preparing wills because the act of drafting a will is a process of preparing a life for loved ones after you are gone. There’s nothing more selfless than that.
In June, I go to a monthly morning networking event for nonprofits hosted by SHARE Charlotte. I talk with a woman from the Arc of Mecklenburg County who lights up when she realizes that our services could help the families her organization serves.
In July, I go with a Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy staff to volunteer at Hospitality House of Charlotte, where family members of patients at the nearby hospital can stay for reduced rates or for free. We make far too much lunch for the house in exchange for inspiration.
Later, I get to interview an attorney in one of Charlotte’s biggest office buildings to talk to him about the pro bono work he has done for Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, and in a particularly reflective moment, he tells me, “I would like to think every lawyer returns or is pulled to return to more of a local type of help, to give back.”
In July, a staff attorney shares a letter from a client expressing gratitude even though he was unable to win her case. She was so grateful just to have someone fighting for her. She wrote, “You always kept your word to me, calling to inform or advise or provide as promised.” Sometimes just being in someone’s corner makes all the difference.
These are the moments that will stay with me long after my internship experience. From researching the broader benefits of medical legal partnerships in the community to simply serving as a witness at a will signing, the work I did here has shown me that even in seemingly mundane moments of day-to-day office work, there’s a beautiful dedication to advocacy with the ultimate hope of building a better world. One day, I hope to join that cause with the passion I found here.
Last week, we and the entire civil legal aid community were shocked and appalled as the North Carolina General Assembly approved a budget that eliminated all $1.7 million in state funding to provide legal assistance to people who can’t afford representation in civil legal matters.
The Access to Civil Justice Act is one of the public and private funding sources LSSP relies on to ensure that we can help people in crisis, who have no other source of legal assistance. Our annual budget is a patchwork of diverse support but each source is vitally important to our stability and impact.
One third of Mecklenburg County residents are financially eligible to receive our services. Without our help, thousands of families may lose financial security, health care, housing and the stability that supports upward mobility. In the wake of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force report citing the critical necessity of expanding upward mobility and opportunity to build a stronger city, now is not the time for NC to cut funds that directly support that end.
The elimination of the Access to Civil Justice Act will have devastating effects on civil legal assistance across the entire state. Legal Aid of North Carolina, our partner in justice, will lose $1.5 million in state funding, while the proposed budget from the White House seeks to eliminate federal Legal Services Corporation funding, which greatly supports Legal Aid’s operations.
LSSP and LANC offer critical support to people in crisis, help them address their basic needs, and strengthens our community. This funding cut comes as a huge blow even as we enjoy the success of our annual Access to Justice fundraising campaign, which has raised $525,000 to date – a historic amount under the leadership of campaign chair Cory Hohnbaum. But we must maintain ALL of our support to meet the growing needs of clients.
For 50 years, LSSP has provided legal representation and advocacy to ensure the safety, security and stability of our clients, promote fairness and empower people to increase their economic mobility and opportunity. We now face a loss of funding that will limit our ability to serve the community and hurt those most in need.
We appreciate the ongoing support we receive from local sources – individual contributions and institutional support – that lets us deliver justice to people in need.
Kenneth L. Schorr
Joe Trunzo is an associate attorney at Dechert, LLP specializing in securitization transactions. He moved to Charlotte from New York to join the firm in 2014. Soon after, he began volunteering his pro bono services with Legal Services of Southern Piedmont’s Legal Services for the Elderly program, helping seniors draft and execute estate planning documents, including wills, powers of attorney and healthcare powers of attorney documents. In his free time, Joe enjoys spending time with his fiancé, their dog, a Goldendoodle named Buddy, and their friends and neighbors in the community.
Summer intern Abby Mitchell conducted this interview.
When did you start volunteering with LSSP?
So, I started volunteering at the end of 2014. I moved down to Charlotte and started working at Dechert in May of 2014 and knew I wanted to do pro bono. I got involved through Jeanine Johnson who was the pro bono coordinator here at the time when she asked if I could help with some wills cases that had come in. I think it was November or October, and I just realized that I really enjoyed doing it, so now, almost any time a wills case comes in, I try to be the first guy to get it.
Yeah, it sounds like it would be really rewarding.
It is. You meet the people you’re working and for and so often they thank you right away. They say, “Thank you so much for doing this for me,” or “It means so much to my son,” or “I’m hoping this will take care of my grandson.” It’s just great. It’s such a contrast to what we do here. So often you can never really put a face to a name. It’s some guy in New York or some guy in London who’s calling you and you never meet him.
And you primarily volunteer with Legal Services for the Elderly correct?
Yeah, so the majority of the work that I’ve done are wills, power of attorney, and healthcare powers of attorney.
That’s such an interesting group because they’re so forward thinking about providing for other people in such a selfless way through estate planning.
Yeah it is. Putting a will together is not an easy thing to do. You’re forced to confront your own mortality. You have to get over that fear in order to take care of people that you care about. When you think about it it’s really a selfless thing to do.
How do you balance pro bono with having such a work-intensive job?
That’s a great question. The biggest thing is making it a priority. Typically when I do these wills, putting the three documents together takes anywhere from seven to 10 hours, sometimes less, sometimes more. Then getting them executed can be at least an hour if not more. I’ve had a couple of cases where clients have had tons of questions. We’ve had to go through things. We had to make changes on the fly, and that took 3 hours alone. And really there were so many occasions where I could have said, “I can’t make it today”, or “Hey, I know we scheduled to set this up for you on Friday morning but I can’t make it” but you just have to do it. You have to treat it like the work you do for the firm, because it is just as important. I think as long as you approach it with that mentality, you’ll always be able to balance it and find a place for it.
And you know, Dechert is really great about doing that. Every lawyer here has a requirement. I think it’s like 28 or 50 hours for every year that you have to do for pro bono in order to be in good standing with the firm. So when you’re getting that kind of support from the firm, it makes it a lot easier to say “I’m thinking about taking on a pro bono project this month.”
It seems like a lot of the law firms around here are really invested in that work, which I think is great.
Yeah that’s one of the coolest things I found about Charlotte. When I was up in New York, the law firms, all do pro bono work, but it wasn’t taken as seriously as it is here. Here, my firm is expecting me to do this, and I should be doing this as part of my development as a person, and part of my development as an attorney. And when you’re not getting that coordination with the higher ups at the firm, it also, then it becomes harder to prioritize it.
What do you enjoy the most about the pro bono work you do?
Really and it sounds so cliché and corny but it really is helping people. Being able to give people a sense of relief. That’s the thing I notice the most when we sign these things up. When people are done, they seem relieved. It’s like there’s this big weight being lifted off their shoulders. You know, I mean you probably live your whole life thinking I should probably put a will together. As you get older, it weighs on you even more.
When we’re able to provide that service for someone, you see that you’ve lifted something that has been troubling them.
Everyone is very appreciative and very thankful which is really cool. You learn about these people and the people that they care about. And so, learning, getting to know them and realizing again, that you’re able to provide this kind of relief by providing this service is the best part.
Do you think working on these cases provides different complications than your everyday job?
Oh yeah, yeah for sure. It’s just a different kind of problem that you never would really think about here. Like with the healthcare power of attorney stuff, people are faced with tough decisions, like if something were to happen, “Do I want to be put in a vegetative state?” You’re forced think about the legal implications of those decisions.
That has to be a really unique way to grow as an attorney also.
Yeah it is. It would be hard to find a lawyer who would say, “Oh I wanted to become a lawyer to represent these big international companies” No lawyer would ever tell you that. No, you wanted to be a lawyer because you wanted to help people. Thanks to LSSP and the pro bono work they offer. I can do that.
What advice would you give to attorneys that want to get involved in pro bono with LSSP or otherwise?
The advice I would give them is get involved as soon as you can. It really is rewarding. It really is such a refreshing change from what you typically do daily. I don’t care how busy you are, force yourself to make it a priority. There’s always time for it. We often like to think we work around the clock, and sometimes we do, but you can always find a half hour, or an hour, you can always find it. If you prioritize it, you always can. Pro bono work is just as important, and it is exponentially more rewarding than probably the work you do in the day to day.
With this funding, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, Legal Aid of North Carolina and Pisgah Legal Services in Asheville help people with few options navigate their way out of crisis.
Legal Services of Southern Piedmont faces a budget cut that will limit our ability to serve the community and hurt those who can’t afford representation in civil legal matters. In its 50-year history, our organization has provided legal representation and advocacy to promote fairness and empower people to increase their economic mobility and opportunity.
Legal Aid of North Carolina, our partner in justice, also faces peril. In addition to the projected $1.5 million of state funding the organization would lose, the proposed budget from the White House also seeks to eliminate federal Legal Services Corporation funding, which greatly supports Legal Aid’s operations.
These cuts will have devastating effects on civil legal assistance across the entire state, placing greater strains on an already overcrowded court system and increasing demand on community resources.
While the government provides a lawyer to poor defendants in criminal cases, those who can’t afford an attorney in civil matters are left on their own to navigate a complex legal system.
The Charlotte region is fortunate to have two legal services organizations working together to ensure that all people have access to representation that ensures their safety, security and stability.
Many in North Carolina, especially the state’s rural areas, have few options when in crisis. Across our state, there is one legal aid attorney for every 15,000 low-income people who desperately need representation but can’t afford it.
One third of Mecklenburg County residents are financially eligible to receive our services. Without legal representation in civil matters, thousands of families can lose financial security, health care, housing and opportunity.
A 2014 economic impact study conducted by the NC Equal Access to Justice Commission found that for every dollar the state spends on legal services, almost ten dollars flows back into the state economy.
Legal Services of Southern Piedmont and Legal Aid of North Carolina offer critical support to people in crisis, help them address their basic needs, and strengthen our community.
By providing legal services and advocacy for the last 50 years, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont is a champion for those in need. We pursue justice for all people each day, in hopes of building a just community in which all know stability and are empowered to find opportunity.
What you can do
- Spread the word about the impact organizations like Legal Services of Southern Piedmont have on your community through letters to the editor, social media and by contacting your representatives.
- Support the Access to Justice Campaign, which benefits both Legal Services of Southern Piedmont and Legal Aid of North Carolina. Your support is critical to our organizations at this time, and the Access to Justice Campaign is a valuable tool that you can use to support us today and every day.
Thank you to those who believe in civil legal aid and its vital role in maintaining a strong, democratic society.
Today, the N.C. House of Representatives will vote on its 2017 budget that includes cutting $1.7 million in funding for legal services for low-income families in our state.
With this funding, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, Legal Aid of North Carolina and Pisgah Legal Services help people with little to no options navigate their way out of crisis to find safety, economic security and stability.
We hope that the N.C. General Assembly will reconsider this provision and restore this critical funding over the course of the budget process this month. The North Carolina Bar Association has more information on how you can contact your representative and share your concerns.
Nearly 10,000 people age 65 and older live in poverty in Mecklenburg County. For this group, the cost of obtaining even simple estate planning documents can be prohibitive, putting them at risk of losing control of end-of-life decisions, such as care and the ability to easily pass their belongings on to family members.
During Legal Services of Southern Piedmont’s annual Wills on Wheels event this spring, low-income seniors met with volunteer attorneys from Bank of America, U.S. Bank, Culp Elliott & Carpenter and Mayer Brown to draft and execute simple wills and advance directive documents that outline their end-of-life wishes free of charge, granting them and their families stability that they could otherwise not afford.
Since 2005, pro bono attorneys, paralegals and other volunteers have partnered with LSSP through its Access to Justice Pro Bono Partners program to ensure that all seniors in our community maintain control over the final disposition of their assets and their future medical decisions by assisting them in completing simple wills and advance directives at no charge.
“It warms my heart to see professionals giving their time and expertise to seniors in their communities, and it is truly a blessing to be a part of the program and witness the interaction and the smiles of appreciation,” Deborah Hampton of Bank of America said.
Alberta Carter Bey was one of those seniors expressing her gratitude. Bey worked with Daniel Blackburn, of Mayer Brown, to execute her will and healthcare power of attorney. When her husband passed away last January, and she saw firsthand the importance of having plans in place.
“You need to have everything written down so your wishes can be respected,” Bey said. “It offers so much peace for the family.”
Antonio Claud and Deborah Adams felt the same way as they joined their mother, Betty Jean Hallman, 73, to see her complete her documents with Terry Irvin of Bank of America.
More than 30 volunteer attorneys and legal professionals participated in this year’s events, assisting both English and Spanish speakers and several local veterans.
Thanks to the continued support of volunteers, Wills on Wheels has been making critical legal services available for those in need to our community year after year, serving as a model that LSSP has replicated with other corporate and law firm partners and community organizations to serve more local seniors. This support has reinforced LSSP’s efforts to build a more just community for all people as it celebrates its 50th anniversary this fall.
“We as volunteers are proud to be a part of this tradition with Legal Services as the organization celebrates 50 years of service in the Charlotte area,” said Todd Stillerman, LSSP board president and Bank of America attorney. “When we join LSSP and partner with other law firms and corporate legal departments to provide end-of-life planning for those who need it, we give individuals and families control over their lives, as well as peace of mind. More broadly, this work builds stability in our community.”
Legal Services of Southern Piedmont (LSSP) and Legal Aid of North Carolina-Charlotte (LANC) hosted their 11th annual Justice for All event April 26, at The Westin Charlotte to celebrate those who support justice for all people in our community as part of the organizations’ Access to Justice fundraising campaign.
As Charlotte recognizes the need for systemic changes that enable all residents to find opportunity and stability, almost 500 attendees at the breakfast event heard about how the work of LSSP and LANC is critical to the community’s viability as one third of Mecklenburg County residents do not have access to resources that help them meet their basic needs.
“When access to justice for some is lacking, it is a burden to us all,” said Ken Schorr, LSSP executive director. “We work to make sure that our community’s most vulnerable and underserved have access to the legal help that they need to achieve safety, security and stability.”
Keynote speaker, Toussaint Romain, a Mecklenburg County public defender emphasized the impact of civil legal aid in Charlotte, explaining that as champions for those in need, LSSP and LANC uplift our neighbors who struggle, helping them soar to reach their potential and alleviating burdens on our community.
“These people are about serving,” Romain said. “These are folks we can entrust our resources to. When we as a community serve Legal Services and Legal Aid, they in turn serve the community.”
Attendees also heard from people the organizations helped in the last year whose stories are a testament to the mission LSSP and LANC began 50 years ago in breaking down barriers to access as advocates and defending policies that provide positive outcomes for all people.
“We focus on the most vital needs of folks—their personal safety, their income, health care, shelter, and their right to remain in the United States of America,” Ted Fillette, senior managing attorney at Legal Aid’s Charlotte office, said to applause. “The staff and volunteers of Legal Services and Legal Aid work closely together. Our legal work helps individual clients survive and achieve justice. But, our work does more than that: we improve the ways in which the judicial system and other institutions in the community treat all vulnerable people.”