The Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center was founded in response to an urgent need in our community. When the then-currently largest provider of non-profit legal help shut down, they left few options in their place. Because of restrictions on federal funding, undocumented people had nowhere to turn for help. We wanted to offer an answer to that question of where people go for legal help when no one else would help them at a rate they could afford.
Kevin Piecuch, SWIRC’s Executive Director and principal attorney, opened our first free legal clinic in June 2015 at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center in southwest Detroit (a.k.a. “The Mercado”). There we offered much more than a free consultation. From the beginning we performed real legal services: helping people with immigration forms, preparing wills, writing demand letters to those who would exploit our clients, all this and more took place at the Mercado. The clinic also served as the front door for those who needed more than we could accomplish at the clinic. It was the first step toward gaining representation at a fraction of the cost charged by traditional attorneys. We wanted to provide quality legal services to those who could not afford them from conventional sources. We fought deportations, took dishonest vendors to court, prevented unfair evictions and helped families remain together. Clients came to us in desperation and frequently left with hope for their future.
In the years following we opened two more clinics, one in Pontiac and one on Detroit’s east side. Each clinic is intentionally located in a community that needs what we offer. These are among the most impoverished communities by household income in the in the Detroit area. Thanks to these efforts, in Southwest Detroit and elsewhere, our reputation has spread, and more and more people recognize us as offering hope when they have no other options.
Our society works well for people who are familiar with the culture, who are well-educated, who know what their rights are and others accept that they have the right to assert them. This same system often fails our clients–people trapped in multi-generational cycles of poverty and oppression, immigrants just learning our culture and language, and refugees who have fled unspeakable dangers with only the possessions they could carry. When our society fails them, they come to us, and we help them.
We’ve mapped out an aggressive path forward, more on that in another post, and we want you to be a part of it. We believe this is a community issue. When people are taken advantage of in one part of the city, it keeps us all from experiencing the vibrant and safe Detroit area that we all want. No one of us, whether in the city or suburbs, is in this alone. We need our community’s support to make a difference for underserved communities in Detroit.
Right now, this means subscribing to emails from us, following us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Share our work with others you know who would be interested. We need to grow our community of supporters.
We also need more concrete support in the form of donations and volunteers for our clinics. Please consider an end of the year gift to support our work or getting in touch with us about how you might be able to help as a volunteer.