Last week, the Department of Justice announced that they would stop funding the Legal Orientation Program (LOP). This decision will mean the end of our LOP services in Eloy and Florence, the only legal lifeline for thousands of immigrants. Eliminating this program will have a devastating impact on our clients, their families, and our communities.
Consider the story of Emiliano, one of our former clients who was was reunited with his family thanks to the support of our LOP staff. Emiliano was released from detention after our staff attorney empowered him to fight his case. When the police arrested Emiliano for a minor unpaid traffic ticket, he expected that he would go to court, pay his ticket, and return home. Instead, he was locked up in an immigration detention center for months before reuniting with his family.
Like the vast majority of detained immigrants in Arizona, Emiliano and his wife could not afford to pay a private attorney to represent him. While Emiliano was detained, his wife Rosa scrambled to make ends meet. Rosa and her five children left the town where they had lived for years to move closer to Emiliano in order to visit him at the detention center. Rosa recalled the pain of visiting Emiliano in detention, which was felt most acutely by their six year old daughter: “When we visited, she used to tell [Emiliano] ‘I want to wear a jumpsuit just like you so that I can stay here with you.’”
Emiliano first encountered the Florence Project during a group legal orientation, in which staff guide people through their legal options and help them understand their rights in immigration court. An LOP attorney met with Emiliano and listened to his story. He then empowered Emiliano to represent himself through his legal process and gave him the tools he needed to successfully close his case. Emiliano is now out of detention and reunited with his family.
Every day we encounter people like Emiliano in detention: people who are forced to represent themselves alone in a system that denies them access to a public defender. Our LOP staff is the last line of defense for detained immigrants in Arizona. Support the Florence Project and help us keep families together.