Santa Barbara County Gets First Department of Justice Representative for Immigrants

Santa Barbara County Gets First Department of Justice Representative for Immigrants title=
Karla Can (Photo courtesy of Immigrant Hope Santa Barbara)
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Source: Immigrant Hope

At a time when deportations are being fast-tracked and families are getting separated, immigration advocates like Karla Can are needed now more than ever. 

Can recently became Santa Barbara County’s first - and currently only - fully accredited Department of Justice (DOJ) representative. This means Can is able to act in an attorney capacity to represent immigrants before the Department of Homeland Security and the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which includes the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals.

“There are not enough words to describe what this means to me,” said Can. “When people call looking for representation, instead of referring them elsewhere, I will be able to assist them.”

Accredited representatives like Can must be affiliated with a nonprofit organization that has been recognized by DOJ as an organization serving low-income clients. Immigrant Hope Santa Barbara (IHSB) is one of two organizations in Santa Barbara County that fit the bill. Can has worked for IHSB for five years and it’s been a longtime goal for her to achieve full accreditation. 

“From the first day Karla walked into Immigrant Hope, I knew God had called her to do this work,” said IHSB Executive Director Diane Martinez. “Immigration Law is very complicated, yet Karla could quickly understand and apply the laws to her work and is a valuable resource to the other staff.”

Located on Santa Barbara’s Westside and connected to Shoreline Community Church, IHSB began providing education classes for adults seeking U.S. citizenship in 2012. It expanded to providing immigration services in 2014. With Can’s new credentials, the nonprofit’s services have grown even more.

Because immigration courts are civil courts, immigrants are not guaranteed a government-funded attorney and have to find their own representation. In criminal courts, all defendants facing even one day in jail are provided an attorney if they cannot afford one.

Finding representation can be difficult for people who have low incomes and must navigate a complex system. According to a 2016 report from the American Immigration Council, about six in 10 immigrants in removal cases went to court without legal representation.

“I will never forget seeing so many people waiting in line for their court hearing, holding a file in their hands without representation,” said Can of her time in observing court hearings as part of her training. “Knowing they must defend their case alone in front of a judge with that file as their only defense is overwhelming. I will now be able to provide the legal, emotional, mental, and spiritual support to my clients that is critically needed.”

Increasing the availability of competent legal representation for low-income immigrants dramatically increases the chances that they will receive the relief they seek. The same report from the American Immigration Council found that among detained immigrants, those with representation were twice as likely to obtain immigration relief if they sought it. Among immigrants who were never detained, those with representation were nearly five times more likely to obtain relief if they sought it. 

Can will now be able to train the organization’s other partially accredited representatives, increasing Immigrant Hope Santa Barbara’s capacity to provide low-cost, pro-bono legal services to Santa Barbara County’s immigrant community. 

Can currently works 20 hours per week for Immigrant Hope Santa Barbara. The organization wants to bring her on full time so she can take on bigger cases like removal defenses, asylum seeker cases, and more. IHSB needs additional funding to make this happen. 

You can help Karla help more local immigrants get the services they need by making a donation here: www.immigranthopesb.org/support-karla.html. For more information, visit immigranthopesb.org or call (805) 963-0166

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