Frequently Asked Questions
What is Immigrant Hope?
Immigrant Hope is a non-profit organization affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), created to further the EFCA mission of “multiplying transformational churches among all people.”
Our mission is to equip and resource churches to provide immigrants with the HOPE of the gospel, HELP finding a path to legal residency, and a HOME in a church that cares for their needs.
Why does Immigrant Hope exist?
Living in a new country comes with a unique set of struggles. One of the biggest is navigating the immigration system itself. Anyone hoping to lawfully visit or move to the U.S., become a U.S. citizen, or bring in family members must navigate U.S. immigration law. The law is byzantine, and consequences for mistakes are severe – loss of status, detention for months or years, deportation back to starvation, war, and persecution, and decades-long separation from family are common. Unlike with criminal issues, however, immigration legal advice and representation is only available to those who can find and afford it. Those immigrants with the least education, means, and connections are usually left to face the system alone. Predatory conmen (known in the immigration community as notarios) pose as experts and offer help, but vulnerable immigrants often waste years and thousands of dollars, commit fraud, and miss out on legitimate benefits based on bad advice.
Churches that provide affordable, reliable immigration legal advice can make a huge impact on the lives of vulnerable people in a broken situation.
Our goal is not just to help immigrants find citizenship in this country; we want to help them find eternal citizenship in the Kingdom of God through Christ Jesus. Meeting the felt needs of immigrants gives ministry staff the credibility to address spiritual needs. We believe that God calls all Christians to love and serve those around them, regardless of their race, culture, language, economic status, or legal status. We hope to equip churches to serve their immigrant neighbors with integrity and excellence, opening the door to share the gospel with credibility.
Just as facing the immigration system can be daunting for immigrants, the process of becoming an immigration legal service provider can be daunting for individual churches. Immigrant Hope provides churches with a standardized set of resources, and walks with them to set up their clinic and earn government certification. We then provide ongoing support and assistance as churches provide legal services.
What does Immigrant Hope do?
Support network for church-based immigration legal services
Immigrant Hope works with local churches that have a heart for reaching immigrants in their community. We help churches assess community needs and church resources, build strategic partnerships with other local churches, and walk through the process of becoming a Department of Justice (DOJ) recognized (government-certified) immigration legal service provider. Once a church gains DOJ recognition, we help them set up a functioning immigration legal aid clinic staffed by volunteers from the church and its partners, and work with the church to create a ministry plan to share God’s love and make disciples. Immigrant Hope then provides ongoing legal, program, and ministry support to the clinic, including access to experienced attorneys to answer questions, a case management system to store sensitive client data, and access to a network of other Immigrant Hope centers.
Training for immigration representatives
Immigrant Hope has developed training customized to both meet the requirements for government certification and the needs of church-based immigration legal workers. Our week-long class, called IMMIGRANT PATHWAY Institute, has been offered 9 times in 7 cities to more than 300 students. Many former students have gone on to provide legal services to vulnerable immigrants, through Immigrant Hope and many other organizations.
How It Works
Setting up church-based legal aid clinics
The Office for Legal Access Programs (OLAP) is a branch of the Department of Justice. It is responsible for overseeing immigration courts and legal practice. OLAP will recognize non-profit organizations (like churches) and accredit their non-attorney staff to provide immigration legal services. By law, only attorneys and DOJ accredited representatives can provide any form of immigration advice.
Organizations applying for DOJ recognition must:
- Primarily serve low-income immigrants in the U.S.
- Have access to legal advice and resources.
- Have accredited representatives on staff.
Individuals applying for DOJ accreditation must:
- Demonstrate that they are knowledgeable and experienced in immigration law.
- Work only at the DOJ recognized location through which they apply.
Immigrant Hope helps churches open DOJ recognized immigration legal counseling centers overseen by DOJ accredited representatives. Click here for a list of services Immigrant Hope provides.
Providing immigration legal advice and representation
Immigrant Hope clients need help help with all types of immigration issues, such as applying for green cards for themselves or family members, changing their immigration status within the U.S., applying for U.S. citizenship, applying for visas as victims of domestic violence, trafficking, persecution, or other crimes, and finding a path to legal status. Our counselors sit down with clients to determine their goals and options, decide on the best way forward, and, if possible, represent them before government agencies. Representation often involves multiple appointments over the course of months or years as the counselor and client work together to craft a sound strategy, gather information and documents, and complete applications.
The centers function much like a doctor’s office; volunteers with basic training (like nurses) gather information from clients. Accredited representatives (like doctors) then review the information and meet with the clients to decide on a course of action. The volunteers then collect any additional information required and complete the forms that the accredited representative has selected. Cases that are too difficult for the representatives or outside their areas of expertise are referred to experienced attorneys (like specialists).
Making disciples through immigration legal services
While meeting with clients, Immigrant Hope workers are immersed in their life stories, learning about their triumphs, hurts, and hopes for the future. Clients may share things they have never told anyone else. The opportunity is huge to meet emotional and spiritual needs, as well as legal. Our workers often pray with clients, share the gospel, and connect them with other church programs and ministries, and build long-term relationships based on trust and understanding.
Immigrant Hope is not, however, just a ministry to our clients. As they serve, our workers have a unique opportunity to see past differences, barriers, and fears and learn to love strangers as God does. Just as parenthood deepens our understanding of God as our Father, exposure to immigration deepens our understanding of our identity as sojourners and pilgrims. Furthermore, unity in the Gospel across cultural boundaries is a hallmark of Jesus’s message and ministry. By serving immigrants and integrating them into our churches, we grow in our understanding of and alignment with our Lord.
How can I get involved?
Click here for more information on upcoming training in immigration law.
Click here for more information on volunteer opportunities.
Click here to learn how you can pray for Immigrant Hope.
Click here to donate to Immigrant Hope.
For more information on becoming an Immigrant Hope site, contact Immigrant Hope.