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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Just Neighbors advises new residents on immigration issues

An immigrant counseling session. [Just Neighbors]
Just Neighbors, a nonprofit organization that provides legal services to immigrants, wants the public to understand its work and the immigrant populations who live in our community.

Just Neighbors relocated from Bailey’s Crossroads to 7630 Little River Turnpike in Annandale last October. The group’s offices had been in the Landmark Building on Columbia Pike, which is being demolished.

“We want to get more involved in the Annandale community,” says Just Neighbors Operations Director Stephanie Barnes. So the group signed on as a sponsor of the Taste of Annandale and plans to introduce itself at the Oct. 13 street festival.

Much of Just Neighbors’ work is about educating the community – and clearing up confusion – about immigration law and the steps to attaining legal status. The group periodically presents an Immigration 101 session for faith groups and community organizations.

The climate for immigrants in the Annandale community has “changed dramatically” since President Trump was elected, Barnes says. “There is increased fear. People aren’t signing up for social services; kids aren’t going to school.”

Just Neighbors is sending three staff members to the U.S.-Mexico border next month to help reunite families separated by the Trump administration policy of removing children from their parents.

Those problems are not just happening at the border, Barnes says. More people are being picked up by ICE without criminal charges against them, and people who would have been approved for DACA status before are now being rejected. 

Just Neighbors advises an immigrant.
The timelines for immigration paperwork are much longer, she says. “And that is doubling and tripling the amount of work in each case.”

Barnes describes one case involving a refugee family from Egypt living in Springfield. The man has a green card and has been waiting for two years to get green cards for his wife and teenage children. In the past, it would have taken about nine months. Because of the delay, their medical reports expired and have to be redone, at a cost of $250 each.

Other cases are taking as long as five years, she notes, which means people can’t get work permits or drive legally. As a result, they have to rely on under-the-table jobs like babysitting where they can’t earn a living wage and aren’t contributing to the tax base.

When ICE has a warrant for a person but can’t find them, they often pick up someone else – in the household or community – who doesn’t have a criminal conviction or arrest record.

That happened to an undocumented juvenile from Honduras living in Springfield who was headed to his first day at a job installing granite countertops when he was picked up by ICE and sent to the detention center in Farmville. A Just Neighbors attorney was able to get him released at the lowest bond amount, $1,500, and is now helping him apply for asylum.

If Just Neighbors hadn’t been able to step in, he would have been assigned to the “rocket docket,” a fast-paced process leading to deportation with no time to appeal, Barnes says. “We’re seeing more of these types of cases.” 

For undocumented immigrants who are not eligible for any kind of path to citizenship, Just Neighbors educates them about their rights. For example, if they are stopped by law enforcement, they only have to give their name.

Just Neighbors urges immigrants not to waste their money on “notarios” or private attorneys. 
Notario means attorney in Spanish but many of the people who advertise as notarios here are not authorized to practice law. They often make false promises and actually put people at risk of deportation.

Much of Just Neighbor’s work is done by volunteers, which not only helps the organization get more casework done, but “allows for more personal interactions,” Barnes says, noting that many of the group’s volunteers are immigrants themselves.

One of the organization’s objectives is “to raise consciousness in our community so people understand who our neighbors are,” she says. “These are people with lives and stories and families.”


  1. Immigration laws need to be enforced... finally!

  2. The laws on the books need to be enforced.

  3. There would be no fear if people weren't doing something wrong in the first place, i.e. breaking the nation's immigration laws.