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Burnet County CRC Welcomes its Newest Tenant Agency: Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services

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Community Resource Centers of Texas Inc. is pleased to announce the newest agency to join our Burnet County location. Catholic Charities Central Texas Immigration Legal Services will office out of the Marble Falls CRC, two days per week to provide low-cost legal consultations for an array of U.S. immigration processes.

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Now serving Texans in over 25 different counties, the Catholic Charities Central Texas Immigration Legal Services (CCCT ILS) program was formed in 2002. After witnessing several other local organizations stepping up to provide immigration assistance for needs like asylum and domestic violence, Bishop John McCarthy (of the Diocese of Austin) observed that there was no low-cost option for people seeking family unification or reunification. It was from this recognized deficit that CCCT ILS was born. Starting with family-based immigration in 2002, they have since moved in the direction of naturalization and removal defense cases, representing clients (mostly under DACA) who are in deportation proceedings. The organization has grown to consist of 5 attorneys, 6 case managers (two of which are accredited DOJ representatives) 4 legal assistants, an administrator, and many gracious volunteers including work study students and law clerks. Together they provide around 1,700 low cost consultations per year, 900 of which become represented clients. Through funding provided by government contracts, foundation grants, and both private and public donations, CCCT ILS is able to offer legal consultations for 60-80% less than the cost of a private attorney. For example, DACA renewals typically cost clients between $800-$1,000 using a private attorney, but can be completed through ILS for around $375. To access these services, clients must be at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, though certain exceptions can be made based on extenuating circumstances.

We sat down with Mr. Justin Estep, the Director of Immigration Legal Services at CCCT, to get some clarification on what their program is and just what it is not. There are a set of federal laws that govern immigration, and it is the mission of ILS is to give people who want to take advantage of the available system the best chance possible to navigate through it successfully. There is a misconception at times about how this program works. It might be assumed that ILS is in some way helping people avoid or subvert the law when it is quite the opposite. “These people we’re helping… we’re empowering them to be able to help themselves,” says Estep. And because immigration policies change so often, they must be even more diligent about staying on top of the changes in laws and regulations to ensure they are giving clients true and current legal advice.

Most of the cases that ISL currently handles are DACA children who are in removal proceedings. If they have DACA, they shouldn’t be facing this. According to Estep, these are not people trying to circumvent the law. They are simply young adults who came to this country at a very young age who, most of the time, didn’t even know that they were undocumented until they tried to apply for college or a job and were informed by their parents that they didn’t have a social security card. If they meet the federal guidelines, which they must to qualify for DACA, the program allows these kids to remain in the U.S. to receive a college education, enter successful careers, and become productive members of the population. Being able to effectively help kids in this situation is why the attorneys at ILS do what they do. In one of his most memorable cases, Estep tells the story of a young UT student who came into to ILS to renew her DACA. She had come to the United States when she was six months old and had previously worked with ILS on DACA renewals as well as obtaining a special travel document to attend an educational exchange program in China and learn the language. Unfortunately, this time when she showed up for her renewal, they were unable to help her. Though it wasn’t for the reason you might think. After graduating from UT, she obtained a job with an international accounting firm, and within 5 years her salary was so far above the poverty line guidelines that she no longer qualified for their services. Not only did she become the first person in her family to obtain a college degree, but in the process, she had become tri-lingual which aided in securing her lucrative position. To Estep, there is no better ending than that. Of course, it is not always sunshine and rainbows. He fought back tears, as did we, while he took us through some first-hand accounts of the battles encountered by would-be immigrants trying to navigate the system on their own. Some of these folks were dealing with circumstances that no human should ever have to face. Being able to help people get themselves out of these situations and, in some cases, even find redemption, is another key reason the attorneys at ILS do what they do.

Following DACA, their next biggest caseload is helping with naturalization. A proclamation often heard by Estep is that “immigrants need to stop sneaking in and do it the right way.” Naturalization, Estep says, is the “rightest way to do it.” It is the legal way to become a full-fledged U.S. citizen, which is of course the ultimate goal. It is a complicated and arduous process for people, many of whom have been here with their petitioning, U.S. citizen family member, working and paying their taxes for the past 20-30 years. ILS is here to legally assist these people at any step along the process to naturalization, helping them to traverse an otherwise implausible process.

One major goal of the ILS is to make their services so accessible that nobody has to drive more than 45 minutes to gain access to their assistance. Though the main office is in Austin, they can accomplish this by partnering with places like the CRC and other social service alliances across multiple counties to provide a physical location to offer Skype consultations with their attorneys. Utilizing available technology, potential clients can meet privately with an attorney who may be hundreds of miles away and otherwise unavailable to meet with them.

For those wishing to set up a consultation at the Marble Falls office, the first step is to schedule an intake meeting during which the coordinator will assess an individual’s situation and discuss potential remedies. These meetings will be offered on Fridays, and clients will be asked to bring a photo id as well as proof of address to their appointment.

Pre-Consultation meetings can be made by phoning 512-651-6125 or by email Lizbeth-ordone@ccctx.org[/paragraph]

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