In the last post, we looked at SWIRC’s past, where we’ve been and the immense need for quality free and low-cost legal services in Detroit. We are the only one doing this who serves everyone.
Other providers have an area of law that they specialize in, or a particular demographic that they serve. Our clients are people who hear “no” or “you don’t qualify” or “we can’t help you” all the time. We set no barriers before our clients. When people visit the clinic, we ask them to sign in, and then we listen to what their issues are. In truth, there are some legal issues beyond our capacity or when what a client seeks isn’t realistic. But nine times out of ten we are able to help concretely and realistically. But even that 10th person gets a listening ear, good advice, and respect. Everyone is welcomed in, is invited to tell their story and is taken seriously. This alone creates hope and restores dignity.
In the four year’s of SWIRC’s existence, the need for our services has grown, and we are working toward a place where we are ready to grow as well. We need to do more, and that means expanding our capacity to serve. How do we do that? We’ve identified four areas.
Besides the hundreds of clients who have received “one and done” services at our free legal clinics, SWIRC is managing around 80 active cases at Detroit’s Immigration Court, Michigan’s Third Circuit Court and elsewhere. This is a lot for our small organization but barely scratches the surface of what we could be doing. Of the 4,000 active cases at Detroit’s Immigration Court, barely 20% have professional legal representation. Winning these cases is often nuanced and technical. No one should have to go before an immigration judge without representation.
One way to expand our presence is to offer a legal fellowship to newly graduated law students with an interest in immigration law. The overwhelming majority of immigration lawyers represent wealthy persons seeking to immigrate or large companies and hospitals seeking skilled employees. Very few paid positions exist, however, for persons wanting to help poor immigrants and refugees. By giving young lawyers experience, we hope to encourage persons to start organizations based on our model across the U.S. It will also dramatically increase our capacity to represent immigration clients.
Secondly, we want to engage more religious and community groups in serving our client communities. This means developing a curriculum and organizing a network of people willing to step forward in radical hospitality to their immigrant neighbors.
Finally, we are in the process of refurbishing a large home in southwest Detroit that will serve as emergency housing for people in crisis, group housing for visiting service teams, and program and office space for us.
To achieve these dreams, we have started doing something new for SWIRC: asking our community to fund justice for marginalized people in the Detroit area. Our clinic programs and the legal representation that comes out of them, have been funded by partners like the Ford Fund, the Presbyterian Church and the Oakland County Bar Foundation. Their support has made our clinics possible but has not allowed space for organizational growth.
Growing our capacity and sustaining new programs means that we need to ask more of our community. We need your help, not just in donating your time and money, but also in telling others about SWIRC and our clients.
If you know someone who needs help and can’t afford an attorney, please send them our way.
If you know someone who wants to be a part of making our community a better place, tell them to contact us about volunteer opportunities.
If you believe as we do that the ideal of justice is for everyone, regardless of where a person comes from or how much money you have, then support our work. We can only do this together, and we need each one of you.
SWIRC is truly a grassroots organization. We don’t employ fundraisers or focus groups. Less than one percent of our budget has been spent on marketing or promotion. We’ve never hosted a gala or golf outing–we’re too busy helping clients! We need you. Can you help us by–making a donation today; sharing our work with your friends, relatives, and neighbors; inviting us to talk about the refugee crisis that exists in southeast Michigan at your faith community, club or school; or serving as a volunteer. We need you. Please help us.