More than 100 people are believed to still be detained after immigration raids in Northern Ohio last month that garnered international attention.
Sunday the Bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland Nelson Perez celebrated Mass in Lorain for the needs of immigrant families, and for immigration reform.
“And this country has always been an open place for those seeking asylum…they come seeking not only freedom, but safety,” Perez said in part.
Churches have been highly-engaged in the immigration issue, providing advice and wrap-around services to families, and legal help for immigrants themselves.
And the demand for legal help is immense.
“We’ve consistently run a wait-list of about 300 people seeking our assistance,” says Camille Gill, managing attorney of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Cleveland’s Migration and Refugee Services.
Gill says at the beginning of 2018 they started an effort to assist vulnerable populations, educating people about their rights and about the importance of qualified legal representation.
“So we had been actively involved in doing some of that community education when the workplace raids occurred. And we partnered with a couple organizations across the state that are similar to us in providing low-cost or free immigration legal services to be the first-line responders to those workplace raids,” Gill says.
The majority of the people arrested in the raids still haven’t had a first hearing yet, Gill says, so lawyers and organizations are still in a triage phase of response.
They are figuring out what defense strategies may work best, and even what particulars of the cases are.
Gill says her organization has grown substantially since 2011, going from one lawyer to three lawyers, three paralegals, 2 support staff, and 10 volunteers, but she still can’t meet demand.
In fact, even with three other similar organizations in Cuyahoga County, Gill says collectively there’s too much demand.
“Cleveland in a sense is lucky in that we have four organizations here providing representation, even though we can’t meet demand,” Gill says. “I don’t even know that we know the entire population because there are these little pockets in more rural areas that have no access to let anybody know that they’re out there and that they need help.”
Gill says among clients, and members of communities where the workplace raids happened, there’s a fear, and that fear has compounded in the last two years.
“You know, children not wanting to leave the home, even though those children are U.S. citizens, and they technically shouldn’t have any fear of being deported,” Gill says. “They do because they see what’s happening in their communities.”