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At new immigration clinic, 'We're all family'

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At its most basic level, Lafayette Urban Ministry's immigration services clinic is about family.

That notion was in the forefront of Jefferson High School senior Devon Wolfe's mind as he designed the logo for the newly launched clinic.

"The real motivation behind such immigration ... is it's more of a process about becoming family," Wolfe told the Journal & Courier. "As humans in such a big world, you really tend to lose touch, and then you look around and you realize we're all family. We're all here to help each other."

Last month, the Journal & Courier profiled the clinic when it received accreditation from the U.S. Justice Department's Board of Immigration Appeals.

Since then, the clinic has operated quietly, until Tuesday. That's the day LUM officials and supporters gathered for a grand opening — the first push to announce the clinic's services to the general public.

"We understand that those who are immigrants have a special bureaucratic challenge that many other travelers don't have," said Joe Micon, executive director. "Navigating that system takes an awful lot of knowledge, expertise and energy."

Under the leadership of program director Susan Brouillette, the clinic will provide confidential legal support to immigrant families. That includes determining eligibility for immigration benefits and connecting clients with other services, such as English classes or civics lessons.

That service will be offered on a sliding fee scale.

Brouillette spent 26 years working for former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, who dealt extensively with immigration issues.

"There are such a few number of clinics," Brouillette said. "People may be eligible for benefits and don't even know that they are. Or they don't even know there's help here, or maybe they're being stopped because they don't have the funds to go through the process."

The Census Bureau estimates there are 13,127 foreign-born residents in Tippecanoe County — about 8 percent of the total population — who are not U.S. citizens.

One of them is Diana Michel, 21, who was born in Mexico. Michel said she could have used LUM's immigration services clinic two years ago when she was preparing her deferred action application to gain temporary permission to remain in the U.S.

She faced more than $800 in application and attorney fees. Now a LUM volunteer, Michel wishes she'd had such a clinic to walk her through the process.

"It was very nerve-wracking," Michel said.

With the clinic, "they're giving you assurance, giving you the confidence to do things. If you have any doubt that you're going to be deported, or you're not doing something right, she has the knowledge — rather than somebody just getting things off the Internet."

Zach Szmara, a pastor of The Bridge Community Church, said his church opened a similar clinic four months ago in Logansport. The first clients, he said, were from Lafayette.

"I am just so excited (that) we can tell clients from Lafayette, 'Hey, there is a great clinic serving your needs right here in Lafayette,' " Szmara said.

Even with the new Lafayette clinic, there is more work to be done across the state and country, Szmara said. More than 300,000 immigrants are in Indiana.

"There are only 15 accredited legal representatives in the state of Indiana at 12 different sites," Szmara said. "If we all did a full caseload, it would take us 56 years to meet the need."

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