Social Justice Collaborative (SJC), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization protecting the rights of refugees who are being targeted by the US government, has revealed that it has won more than 420 legal victories and served more than 800 clients in 2022, which was its 10th year in operation.
SJC, which was founded in 2012 by Emily Abraham and Gautam Jagannath, seeks to help low-income immigrants, particularly asylum seekers and displaced families, secure their legal rights. It provides direct legal services and high-quality legal representation in court at little to no cost, such as deportation defense, work authorization, green card application, and family petitions. It also provides free legal representation to minors in court, due to the shocking fact that minors do not have a right to an attorney during a deportation hearing.
Aside from legal services, SJC also helps immigrants holistically, through various referrals to psychological services and mental health consultations, as well as education and work opportunities. SJC’s mission encompasses not only assisting immigrants in obtaining legal status, but also helping them take control of their new lives in the US, regain their confidence, achieve their dreams, and strengthen their sense of hope.
Since beginning with just two staff members and a budget of $400 in 2012, SJC has accomplished numerous milestones in its first decade. In 2014, it began serving all of its clients, who are mostly from Latinx backgrounds, in their native language. This has led to a present-day client language mix of 58% Spanish speakers and 33% Mayan Mam speakers, with 9% in other languages. According to SJC, there is a growing community in the US of speakers of Mayan Mam, an Indigenous language spoken mostly in Guatemala, and there is a lack of legal services offered in their native language. With Mam speakers making up a third of SJC’s clientele, the organization is able to provide significant assistance to this underserved community, which is often double excluded by government services.
SJC began winning one case per working day in 2015, a trend that it has continued and improved on over the years. In 2019, SJC made investments in its technological capabilities, allowing it to take 61% more cases. This came in handy for the following year, when COVID-19 broke out. During this period where movement and in-person gatherings were restricted, SJC was able to offer virtual clinics and digital training for volunteers and clients, ensuring that its services remained uninterrupted.
As part of its 10th year in operation, SJC created its children and youth task force in 2022. The task force is dedicated to helping neglected children and youth apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which allows for a more secure pathway to citizenship and employment in adulthood. According to SJC, the US’ border policies have led to families being torn apart. SJC has represented more than 1,000 youth, helping them reunite with their families and referring them to resources that will improve their lives, such as physical and mental health services, housing, and education.
Since its founding, SJC has served more than 8,800 individuals directly, not counting the tens of thousands more relatives that its work has impacted indirectly. According to SJC, helping immigrants achieve legal status is the first step in achieving a more dignified quality of life in the US. This will open more doors to them, and protect them from a discriminatory and xenophobic system, designed to frustrate and break the will of those seeking legal status.
“Many undocumented immigrants are not aware of their legal rights, and this leaves them vulnerable to unjust and predatory policies,” says Gautam Jagannath, co-founder of SJC. “Over the past 10 years, Social Justice Collaborative has worked to educate immigrants about their rights and empower them to use their voices to advocate for their communities. We also use our voice to fight for systemic change, supporting state- and federal-level bills to protect people from anti-immigrant extremist attacks. Many immigrants are denied equitable support in their applications for legal status due to minor infractions in their home countries which perpetuates the ‘bad immigrant-good immigrant’ dichotomy. We are working with various partners in contacting legislators to convince them about the importance of providing affordable legal representation for immigrants and promoting the healing of our society.”
Name: Paola Madrigal
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