EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Several law firms and nonprofit organizations are teaming up with the Mexican consulate in El Paso to provide free legal services to immigrants this week.
Online seminars and one-on-one consultations will cover issues ranging from suing an employer for lost wages, filing domestic abuse charges and advice on immigration matters. The partnership for this first-ever External Legal Advice Week targets a Mexican population that cannot afford a lawyer and often suffers abuse due to immigration status.
“We are struggling with notarios: individuals who are not attorneys that pose as attorneys and charge a great deal of money to clients,” said Kenneth J. Ferrone, executive director of Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico. “We find ourselves having to fix cases damaged because of someone who has taken on a case doesn’t understand immigration law [….] There are some serious consequences if they make a mistake; we have seen people deported.”
Immigrants often put too much trust in notary publics, U.S. advocates say, because in Mexico a notario is a state-appointed authority figure overseeing civil transactions such as the sale of a property.
In-person sessions take place from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday at Annex C of the Valle Verde Campus of El Paso Community College, 919 Hunter Drive. Online sessions take place all week at the consulate’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. A 5 to 7 p.m. in-person session is scheduled for Wednesday at the Kennedy Community Center, 400 S. Zaragoza.
“It’s critical for any individual facing the immigration system to have legal representation,” said Melissa Lopez, executive director of Diocesan Migrant Refugee Services. “If we don’t put these resources out there, what happens is that people will rely on la comadre (a close friend), la vecina (a neighbor) or somebody who has been through the process before, and we know those are not good resources for people.”
Advocates said residents of rural enclaves are particularly cut off from legal advice. The Thursday in-person session is scheduled at the Ramirez Community Center in the Sparks community, 106 Peyton Road; Friday’s is at the Women’s Intercultural Center in Anthony, New Mexico. Both sessions run from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Almost one in four El Paso County residents (23.9 percent) are foreign-born, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the overwhelming majority come from Mexico.
Not all legal matters in this border city involve immigration. Mexican immigrants also need advice on issues such as child custody disputes, criminal procedures, civil disputes, and violation of labor rights, said Deputy Consul General Ricardo Hernandez.
“We are very happy with our partners, very professional people willing to help us providing these services for free,” Hernandez said.