Crisis relief comes in many forms, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expands its sphere of service to include more as need arises. Approximately two years ago, the church began providing services for immigrants in Salt Lake City. In September of 2016, it stretched outside of Utah to Arizona.
Consulting with an immigration attorney for even a few minutes is costly; it’s unattainable for those with meager funds. It’s also difficult for immigrants to know whom to trust as they potentially hand over thousands of dollars for assistance with legal work status or citizenship.
“It’s a vulnerable population, subject to being swindled by unscrupulous attorneys or by ‘notarios,’ which set up shop and engage in unauthorized practice of law,” says attorney Randall Rowberry, director of this initiative in Arizona.
Randall Rowberry of the Camelback Stake is among several highly-qualified attorneys who volunteer time and expertise to provide free, quick, personalized legal counsel at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. The law school is one of two with which the Church has partnered in this effort that has already aided hundreds of families.
Some clients learn that they are eligible to file citizenship forms, and they receive help filling them out. Others are instructed that there’s nothing they can presently do, and they shouldn’t pay anyone claiming there is. For clients with complex cases requiring a full-time lawyer, a referral sheet of only trusted, top-rated local immigration attorneys is offered.
Randall Rowberry coordinates with G. Bret Ellsworth, Manager of Community Services under Welfare Services for the Church in Salt Lake City. Brother Ellsworth assures, “We’re not trying to help anyone circumvent the legal system, but rather access the appropriate resources that will lead toward self-reliance.”
Numerous ASU law students happily assist. Jose A. Oliveros of Mesa South Stake is a third year law student and director of these student volunteers. He says the initiative provides valuable practical experience for them. They greet clients, help them complete a general information sheet and escort them to an attorney. Though unable to give legal counsel, they are present as it is provided.
Lawyers and students of other faiths donate their time too.
Salvador Macias, a member of the Catholic Church, is a volunteer who migrated from Mexico with his family at age four. Now a third year ASU law student, he will soon become an immigration attorney. He says, “I’ve re-educated my family. They now know why the laws are in place.” He adds, “I didn’t want to be a victim of the law; I wanted it to be my sword and my shield.”
As of January 2017, this legal service is also available at Mesa’s Inter-Stake Center.
The public is welcome for counsel from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. every second Wednesday of the month at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at 111 E. Taylor St. in Phoenix, and every second Thursday at the Mesa Inter-Stake Center at 830 E. 2nd Ave. in Mesa. Call 480-727-0127 for questions.