Welcoming New Neighbors from Afghanistan with the New Americans Legal Clinic

Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates (LIA) is launching a new legal clinic to serve an influx of newcomers from Afghanistan, serving their legal needs to achieve safety and stability after traumatic and harrowing journeys. LIA is the only nonprofit law office serving immigrant and refugee needs regardless of income in Ottawa County.

Communities across Michigan are working to welcome more than 1,300 new arrivals from Afghanistan, with tens of thousands across the United States already in process, and tens of thousands more expected over the coming seasons. At present, over 280 are resettling in West Michigan, including Ottawa, Kent, and Muskegon Counties, in the greater-Holland/Zeeland, Grand Rapids, and Tri-Cities regions. The Operation Afghan Refuge Clinic (OAR Clinic) has been designed by the LIA Legal Team to provide every refugee individual and family with the appropriate legal services to transition from temporary humanitarian parole into full asylum status.

Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates is the only organization in West Michigan dedicated to providing legal services for immigrants and refugees regardless of income.

To create a foundation for stability and safety which all people need to thrive, applications must be made for asylum on the basis that refugees would face persecution, torture, or worse, if they returned to their home countries. Refugees granted asylum may eventually apply for legal permanent residency. Refugees have 1 year from the date of entry into the United States to apply for asylum.

LIA has created a process and program alongside leading resettlement agencies and immigrant and refugee rights organizations in Michigan, including Bethany Christian Services, Immigrant Connection, and MIRC. The OAR Clinic will serve as the single point of initial contact for every incoming refugee case from Afghanistan, with a team of attorneys reviewing each case and assigning to the best legal resource with available capacity. Rather than individual offices or agencies being flooded with requests that would otherwise bog down time-critical legal processes, the OAR Clinic creates an efficient and collaborative way for the needs of Afghan newcomers and service providers to be met.

For these newly arriving neighbors from Afghanistan, and those seeking to assist in welcoming them, questions about housing, employment, health services, food access, and education are at the fore, while the challenges of addressing their legal status are often invisible. Legal status is vital to every new arrival’s long-term stability and future, and LIA’s nonprofit model of legal counsel and representation offers a credible pathway forward for our community to live into its welcoming values.

As a nonprofit immigration law office and advocacy center serving West Michigan, Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates will expend all available resources so refugees can pursue every opportunity to achieve the safety and stability that all people deserve. LIA has been committed to this mission to serve immigrants and refugees since 2015.

The OAR Clinic launches in the first week of November 2021. Staff and volunteers are undertaking training and adjustments to service delivery, including trauma-informed interviewing and cultural orientation. The OAR Clinic will kick-off with 90-minute interviews for the 280 clients expected to arrive through Spring 2022. LIA expects to take on 40-60% of these cases internally through the asylum filing process. Traditionally, these cases can take upwards of 80 hours of law office time, with legal fees in the tens of thousands of dollars.

LIA is seeking broad community support from local foundations, businesses, faith communities, and organizations for this holistic local solution to unanticipated global challenges, to live up to our community’s reputation for welcoming, empathy, and generosity, and create a space and legal services that are led with dignity, cultural respect, and without compromise on quality.

Updated Needs, April 2022: Volunteer for the NALC Asylum Clinic

As we move from intake clinic activities into asylum clinic days through the remainder of 2022, we are seeking volunteers to join us to serve every one o the 270 new Afghan neighbors seeking Asylum.

Throughout 2022, we are operating clinics in Holland and Grand Rapids locations. 

Application Assistants prepare the first four pages of the Asylum Application, Form I-589, and several related documents during a four-hour appointment, scheduled in advance, and taking place in person from 9am-1pm, Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday. Duties will also include organizing case files and vital documents, while interviewing clients to ensure that all information is accurate and up to date. Communication between clients and Application Assistants will be made possible by telephone interpretation. This is the ideal role for volunteers with previous trauma-practice and social work experience.

Hospitality: greet clients as they arrive onsite at clinic locations, provide refreshments, explain the purpose of the clinic and what clients can expect, assist with collecting vital documents

In addition, our staff has identified regular weekly supplies that greatly support our office’s ability to welcome and service our clients:

  • Bottled Water – 50 bottles/week
  • Applesauce/Fruit pouches – 20 pouches/week
  • Trail mix, single serve – 30 packages/week
  • Green Tea, Black Tea – in single serve bags – 50 servings of tea/week
  • Juice Boxes – 30 packages/week
  • Single serve packages of PB crackers / granola bars – 30 servings/week

These supplies may be dropped off at our office (735 Paw Paw Dr), Monday and Friday, 9am-3pm with Iliana or Maggie.

Please note:

– avoid items that contain meat or require utensils (fruit cups)
– no gummy/gelatin-based products
– avoid candy

We invite you to take on the #WelcomeChallenge with us!

The #WelcomeChallenge originated in Germany in 2015 in efforts to generate mass donations and generosity towards refugees and asylees. Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates will be taking the torch to keep this challenge going.

Here is how it works:

  1. take a picture or record a video of you performing a welcoming action in your community
  2. Post it in your social media using the hashtags #WelcomeChallenge #GivingTuesday
  3. Tag 3 of your friends and Challenge them to take action!
  • We are seeking additional licensed attorneys willing to volunteer pro-bono services for asylum applicants – and encourage all those interested to attend in a training clinic webinar for an overview, hosted by MIRC: Register.
  • Financial support for this clinic to offset significant legal fees, translation and interpreter costs, and hospitality expenses will be needed as soon as possible. The OAR Clinic will provide legal services at no cost to refugees. Each OAR Clinic client will have expenses between $360 and $600.
  • If you are able and willing to help in any way, including advocating on behalf of these new arrivals and our collective efforts to welcome them home, please contact Iliana at iponce@lia-michigan.org.