By David Castillo, New Media Manager, NCLR
The latest installment of our ongoing Affiliate Spotlight series features Ayuda, based in Washington, DC. For more than 40 years, Ayuda (which is Spanish for “assistance”) has been a leader in providing legal services to low-income immigrants in the Washington metropolitan area. We spoke recently with Ayuda’s Program Initiatives Coordinator, Sarah Block, about Ayuda’s work and how it benefits the Latino community.
NCLR: For those who may not be familiar with it, especially those outside the DC area, tell us who and what Ayuda is.
Ayuda: We provide holistic services that are culturally sensitive and competent to the low-income immigrant community. These include immigration legal services, which range anywhere from work permits to asylum cases. We also provide legal and social services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual trafficking, as well as individual and group therapy.
Our holistic approach is essential and unique among service providers that serve the immigrant community. This approach is important because, for example, a domestic violence survivor could get a civil protection order, but they may not have a place to live or money for food. That’s not really serving their needs.
Another offering of our immigration legal services is Project END (Eradicating Notario Deceit/Eliminando Notarios Deshonestos), which tackles notario fraud. Project END helps to rectify cases so people can get their money back from shady individuals who act as attorneys in order to take advantage of the immigrant community. Working with the attorneys general offices, we help prosecute those notarios engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
We also have a language access department that includes two banks of interpreters. One is our legal interpreter bank, which places interpreters with legal service providers so attorneys can interact with their clients. We also have the first-ever emergency victim’s services interpreter line, which lets social service providers and doctors access an interpreter 24/7, 365 days a year. We have interpreters in 43 different languages for those banks.
NCLR: Ayuda is actively engaged in helping immigrants eligible for DACA/DAPA navigate the process. What does this work look like?
Ayuda is developing a multidimensional, organization-wide strategy for implementing DACA and DAPA. From helping the community apply for DACA, we know that holding application clinics is an effective way to respond to the high demand for services. Ayuda plans to hold several clinics at various times and locations.
Ayuda staff and volunteers will conduct the clinic. We plan to train committed volunteers to review documents needed for the applications while Ayuda’s attorneys will focus their time on individual consulting and screenings for more permanent forms of relief.
NCLR: What does it mean to be an Affiliate?
Ayuda: It brings us closer to the community of organizations across the country that serve a similar population as we do. It’s helpful to have some of the resources NCLR sends out. We’re all facing similar challenges and opportunities and it’s useful to have a network of support and ideas from an organization that is thinking about that on a national level.
NCLR: Since Ayuda works so closely with the community, what kind of volunteer opportunities are available?
Ayuda: Because of confidentiality issues, there are a lot of limitations on how much volunteers can interact with clients, which is often what volunteers want to do. That said, there are other opportunities to volunteer and help, especially with our annual events. One that’s coming up is the 42nd Anniversary Celebration Gala on May 20. It will be held at the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center in Washington and will include a panel discussion on the immigrant experience. Other guests include former transportation Secretary Norman Minetta, Walter Tejeda, NCLR, an Arlington, Va., County Board member, and an Ayuda client who will be speaking about her own experience. We’ll also recognize Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D–IL) for his tireless work on immigration reform.
NCLR: Where would you like to see Ayuda in next 5–10 years?
Ayuda: We’re growing in terms of staff and clients. Our challenge includes the limitations of our physical space. Being able to expand our infrastructure is important to increasing the number of clients we’re able to serve. We’d also like to be able to help everyone who needs it. Sometimes it’s hard for clients to get a consultation because spots are limited. Being able to meet more of the demand would be ideal. Finally we also hope to increase education opportunities for clients, including ESL classes, financial literacy and various other topics to make our services even more holistic.