A Day In The Life

Standing With Immigrant Families in the Civil Law Reform Unit

Born and raised in Brooklyn to low-income Ecuadorian parents, Jorge Lema Rodriguez witnessed firsthand the economic, linguistic, and bureaucratic hurdles that arise for New York’s immigrant families. As a paralegal case handler with our Civil Law Reform Unit, he is now able to help those from similar communities. In Jorge’s two years at The Legal Aid Society, he finds his work to be deeply fulfilling and personal, but hardly easy.

“It’s better now, but still not good”, he says, comparing the current state of affairs for immigrant communities versus the challenges they encountered during the previous administration. As Jorge describes, immigrant communities were experiencing “fear like never before,” as they worried about the possibility of ICE raiding their homes, arresting and deporting their family members. “The fear has subsided somewhat,” he says, but like with all of our clients, the COVID-19 pandemic presented a new set of problems, especially around accessing government benefits. For immigrant New Yorkers – especially the undocumented – navigating an already complicated welfare system became an even more arduous task.

It was nice to be able to intervene on behalf of an immigrant family like mine. That’s an example of why I love this work and why I want to continue to do it.

Jorge recalls one client in particular who was wrongfully denied benefits. The client, who fled Latin America and lives in NYC with her 11-year-old daughter, applied for benefits multiple times over the course of nine months. Each time, she applied in person and risked contracting COVID-19 and, time and again, the agency wrongfully rejected her application. Jorge and his colleagues stepped in and demanded the agency provide a phone application so the client could safely apply from home, which resulted in an approval. “It reminded me of my childhood and when the government failed my family,” Jorge says. “It was nice to be able to intervene on behalf of an immigrant family like mine. That’s an example of why I love this work and why I want to continue to do it.”

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