Previously published on HIP Online
by Erin Ginder-Shaw
|Carissa Aranda, New Mexico Program Coordinator and Operations Manager|
The New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC) is one of very few providers that offer, “Legal assistance to low-income immigrant families facing separation due to deportation, asylum seekers, and unaccompanied minors.” The organization has ten staff members, four of whom are attorneys. Between the four attorneys there are an average of about 300-400 open cases at any given point. Despite these large caseloads, the waiting list for new clients is so substantial that two non-law practicing NMILC staff members are currently working on Board of Immigration Agency accreditations so they too can begin taking cases. This fact coupled with limited staff capacity makes working with the community essential, and NMILC has honed this engagement in a variety of ways.
The New Mexico Immigrant Law Center works through a community partnership model, the crux of which hinges on asset building through mutually beneficial approaches. In developing these approaches, NMILC first looked at existing programs and services to identify which resources were already present and available. The goal in engaging the community was not to reinvent the wheel, but to ultimately be able to provide legal assistance to more people in need by partnering with institutions that would benefit from an alliance with NMILC.
Some of NMILC’s most active partnerships are with local high schools—such as South Valley Academy (SVA), Ace Leadership High School (ACE), and RFK Charter School—that also offer programs to adults. At both SVA and ACE, NMILC has hosted workshops (the schools provide the necessary resources to do so), and provided legal advice to students who are interested. In addition, NMILC has worked with and trained staff at both the University of New Mexico (UNM) and Central New Mexico Community College (CNM). These trainings have been an important piece of NMILC’s work as they help NMILC keep colleges informed about the organization’s services, thereby allowing universities to pass this information along to their students. The idea is always to look to the community to see which organizations and institutions may be in a position to support the work in a mutually advantageous way.
It is important to note that the impact of these partnerships, and of NMILC’s work, extends far beyond legal status. In the words of NMILC’s New Mexico Program Coordinator and Operations Manager, Carissa Aranda, “Receiving status is a life-changing thing so being able to understand and quantify the changes that come as a result is really important.” There is a ripple effect that occurs when a person can stop living their life on pins and needles. As Aranda states, “If we help people get immigration status we know they’re eligible for healthcare, and in that sense NMILC is improving their access to healthcare,” and it doesn’t stop there.
NMILC is currently in the process of developing data systems to track these sorts of intersections to determine just how far the ripple effect can reach. The assumption is that if new and undocumented immigrants receive legal services, they are more likely to graduate from college, get a job, stay healthy through access to proper healthcare, and ultimately give back to their communities in some way or another. These factors highlight the importance of NMILC’s work. It’s about far more than 50 or 80 successfully managed immigration cases, it’s about creating a system of community partners and beneficiaries that support each other and advocate for the work by always paying it forward, by feeding the ripple effect.