Immigrants are often the victims of scams when they’re seeking help for legal services such as applying for citizenship, work permits or family visas. Even when the service provider is legitimate, the costs can be excessive.
Enter the “Clinic of Hope for the Immigrant” — a ministry of Sylmar Light & Life Christian Fellowship and the Free Methodist Church in Southern California. The clinic officially opened Aug. 15 with services that include citizenship, green cards, naturalization, visas, family petitions, status adjustment, a notary public and immigration attorney referral.
“The experience has been phenomenal. Since we opened the office, we have received many calls from people in need of the immigration services we provide,” said Abel Lopez, the clinic’s director and the associate pastor of Sylmar Light & Life Christian Fellowship. “After each interview we have the opportunity to walk them through each case, and praying together has been a blessing — one we cannot forget.”
Unlike some of the businesses targeting immigrants, the Clinic of Hope for the Immigrant is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals. Lopez said the process to open the Sylmar clinic included “40 hours of immigration law courses, 60 hours of hands-on internship at an immigration law office, office space at our church’s building, a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) application for site recognition and the application for accredited representative through the BIA to practice law at this site.”
“We felt there was a need to assist the communities with immigration issues. The lack of trust with the so-called ‘notarios’ (notaries), and the high cost for immigration services has made it difficult for many,” Lopez said. “We believe the purpose for this ministry is to help those individuals who are seeking a trustworthy office to trust help with their immigration issues at an affordable cost. We believe the church can fulfill that need.”
Lopez noted that the clinic isn’t limited to Hispanic immigrants or residents of one community.
“The services our office provides are not limited to a specific community,” he said. “It serves a diverse group of people living around the city and state.”
The Sylmar ministry is one of the ways that Free Methodists have responded since the denomination joined the Immigration Alliance —a national effort that equips local churches to provide legal services to under-resourced immigrants.
“There is clearly a deep need and a demand for these services,” Free Methodist Church – USA Chief Operating Officer Larry Roberts said. “Because these services are of such high importance to those who need them, this is a powerful opportunity to bless those immigrants amongst us and introduce them to our churches and our Savior through the relationships that can be built in this process.”
The typical charge for providing immigration service is around $200 per person, and a church can generally process around 140 applicants per year. Go to the immigrationalliance.org for more information about starting a clinic at your church.
As Sylmar’s Abel Lopez said, “We, as the body of Christ, can use this tool from a holistic perspective to reach out to the people in need that are less fortunate”.