Serving The Homeless Community—The Immigration Legal Assistance Project

LACBA’s Immigration Legal Services, located inside the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles, serves clients who are trying to keep their families together. It also serves homeless clients, who often are struggling with the added burden of a mental disability, some confusion, or just plain anxiety as they struggle with their lives on the streets. One of our clients, who we will call “Rogelio,” is homeless.

Rogelio is now 60. He was born in Mexico and came to Los Angeles in the early 1980s. He and his brother built a successful florist business in Hollywood, and counted Bette Davis as a steady customer. They were the “florists to the stars.” In 1992 Rogelio got his “green card” and became a lawful permanent resident under the amnesty laws passed by Congress and signed by President Reagan in 1986. 

But times changed and Rogelio and his brother lost their business. Rogelio could not find work and became one of the many homeless people who live on the streets of our city. Over the many years that Rogelio was homeless his green card was lost or stolen, along with his identification documents. Last year, Rogelio was arrested for vagrancy because he didn’t have photo ID to show to the police. 

Rogelio was humiliated. He vowed to reclaim his dignity and self-respect, and to once more have a place of his own. To have a home. Rogelio sought help from the Immigration Legal Assistance Project, and began his climb off the streets. 

In February 2017, Rogelio met with Project volunteers and staff for a detailed consultation. Like many homeless people he was a bit confused about his life and circumstances. He told the Project he was eligible for social security benefits if only he could obtain proof of his immigration status. The Project knew that Rogelio could qualify for public housing if he could obtain social security benefits and proof of his “green card” status. From years of experience, Project staff knew that getting Rogelio’s life back would take many hours of legal work, especially because he lost his papers so many years ago.   

The Project devised a plan to help their client get off the streets. They contacted the United States Citizenship & Information Services (USCIS) to get information about Rogelio’s green card. Fortunately, he was in the USCIS database as a Legal Permanent Resident. Now, the hurdle was the $540 fee to apply for a replacement green card. That fee would be waived if Rogelio could prove he was homeless. 

Project staff advised Rogelio to contact the Midnight Mission on Skid Row. If Rogelio would agree to the Mission’s criteria to receive services, it would write him a letter to confirm that he was homeless. Rogelio followed through. In February of 2017 the Project mailed Rogelio’s application for a new green card and fee waiver request to USCIS. In March, a receipt came to address of Rogelio’s friend. Rogelio and Project staff took that receipt to a second appointment with USCIS, which issued the government stamp that served as Rogelio’s temporary green card. The wait for a replacement green card is about 15 months.  With the stamp as a temporary proof of legal residency, Rogelio was able to get a replacement social security card and the agency accepted his application for benefits. Rogelio’s next stop was the DMV for a new California Identification Card.  

Rogelio was now eligible for low cost housing, but more importantly, he could now look for work. He was very close to his goal of getting his own place. When he moved into low cost housing he returned to the Project to tell us he was no longer homeless. After many years on the streets he now had a home of his own. Rogelio brought tamales, bright red poinsettias, and bouquets of fragrant fresh flowers which decorated the Project’s entire office.

On December 16, 2017, he returned with enormous bundles of roses, lilies, eucalyptus, and babies’ breath, and a big smile on his face. He had finally received his green card in the mail! Rogelio filled the Project office with gratitude for the help he had received, with the spirit of the holiday season, and with the bright colors and sweet smells of flowers.

Mary Mucha is the Directing Attorney, Immigration Legal Assistance Project. The Immigration Project could not do this work without your help. All CFJ Projects have dramatically changed the lives of thousands of people who live in Los Angeles County. An immigration law firm would have charged this client about $3,000 to do this legal work. Your volunteer efforts and financial contributions make it possible for us to continue to help a community in need.  Please donate to Counsel for Justice online by clicking on the “Donate CFJ” bar in the upper right-hand corner of LACBA’s homepage- www.lacba.org. We sincerely thank you for your thoughtful consideration and support.