Metro, News

Local hotline provides legal support to immigrants

Comprised of six local groups, Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance offers legal, mental health resources

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The six local advocacy groups that compose AMOR convened Feb. 14 to celebrate the coalition’s launch of a hotline that offers legal and mental support for immigrants and minorities.

Nearly two months after establishing a hotline that provides support to immigrants and minorities in Rhode Island, the Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance is focused on making small-scale community change by offering immediate support to its callers.

Galvanized to collaborate by the election of President Trump, six local advocacy groups formed AMOR after a year’s worth of planning — Direct Action for Rights and Equality, the Providence Youth Student Movement, Fighting Against Natural Gas, Call Off Your Tired Old Ethics, Colectivo Sin Fronteras and Refugee Dream Center. Some of these organizations had previously collaborated to advocate for the rights of people of color, which made working together to conceptualize AMOR easier, said Catarina Lorenzo, the overseeing organizer of AMOR.

AMOR offers support in English and Spanish and includes a two-part legal support team, with one specializing in immigration services and another in police violence. In addition, AMOR provides mental health care. The organization relies on two staff members and a network of around 60 volunteers to provide these resources to Rhode Island residents.

As of mid-March, the AMOR hotline had received approximately 10 calls, Lorenzo said, from people primarily seeking legal support for immigration issues. AMOR was created as a hotline with the priority of “stopping deportations and preventing deportations,” said Sophia Wright, a community organizer for DARE and organizer for AMOR, adding that it was intended to “be as a first line of defense, so we could have rapid response happening.” The hotline allows organizers to “come to the scene of the hurt as soon as possible, so that healing can happen,” she said.

Rhode Island has seen an increase in the detention of immigrants, Wright said. Her work with immigration organizing in Rhode Island — which extends beyond AMOR — and discussions with lawyers who collaborate with AMOR have shown her that “the shift has been happening since January towards detaining people in Rhode Island at a quicker rate for very minor things” that would not have faced the same consequences under the Obama administration. Examples include “courthouse pickups,” she said, pointing out that under the previous administration, immigrants would be picked up if they had committed a crime or had a pending order of deportation. “And now, what they’re doing is they’re picking up anybody who they find,” she added.

“Basically, they’re picking up the low-hanging fruit: people who are not a threat to society, so that they can up their statistics to demonstrate that they are ‘taking out the riffraff.’ But essentially, what they are doing is taking out the most vulnerable: people going to routine immigration meetings, hearings, things to update their status,” she said.

Even before the establishment of the hotline, AMOR circulated a petition in support of Lilian Calderon, an immigrant who was detained despite her lack of a criminal record,  according to Uprise RI. “We did great; our community raised $10,000 in six days,” said Bella Robinson, executive director of Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics. Calderon and her husband were present for AMOR’s launch Feb. 14, she added.

Mayor Jorge Elorza issued a statement while Calderon was under threat of deportation, according to Uprise RI. “The case of Lilian Calderon, who has been here since she was three years old, who grew up in our city and who graduated from our public schools is a sad reminder of how wrongheaded our immigration policy is,” the statement read.

In addition to immediate and direct legal support, mental health services are crucial components, Wright said. “Because they’re experiencing that trauma, (people who need legal support) will also be needing mental health support — especially if somebody has been detained already,” she added.

“Having a mental health provider provide an assessment for the family is an extremely important element in a court case to prove that somebody shouldn’t be separated from their citizen children,” Wright said. “That’s been a huge reason for us to have a seriously well-equipped mental health network to actually support the legal process” at AMOR. This vein of resources has “definitely been effective; we have been able to link people up to counselors that can write those assessments” and submit them to court, she added.

Wright envisions that the scope of AMOR will eventually transcend immigration issues. “Hate crimes, criminalization of immigrants and criminalization of people of color” should all be discussed in the same category, Wright said. “Those things get pigeonholed in different categories,” she explained. “What AMOR has really done is unify all of those things” under an “umbrella,” which she described as issues of “white supremacy or capitalism.” “Colonialism” constitutes another unifying root of entrenched issues in this vein, she added.

While rhetoric on capitalism and colonialism might come across as too academic, “when you fight against them in this way, it makes them very real, because you watch (the systems) play out on people’s real bodies,” Wright added.

“Last year, I had a serious problem at the court,” said Eva Davila, a Providence resident who was referred to AMOR by her psychologist. Lorenzo and AMOR put her in contact with an immigration lawyer as well as transportation to her court date, she added. Though Davila preferred not to elaborate on the specifics of her case, she said it was successfully resolved with AMOR’s support.

As a nascent organization, AMOR is currently focused on increasing outreach and community awareness of the resources provided through the hotline. “The more outreach we’ll do in the community, the more types of calls we’ll see,” Wright said.

AMOR is pacing its expansion in order to ensure it provides effective service on a smaller scale. “Right now, AMOR is focusing on just doing our job well. We’re building systems that can be sustainable, so we don’t have a timeline for growth and expansion,” Wright said. “We want to make sure that we’re working with people.” For the time being, AMOR is planning trainings to increase the number of hotline operators and focusing on publicizing their initiatives throughout Rhode Island.

“If 50 percent of Providence knew that we existed, could we handle the influx of calls? This is what I’m most concerned about and most interested in seeing AMOR be able to handle it realistically and sustainably,” Wright said.  “We’re never going to stop needing to support each other in this community, when we’re experiencing the abuse of the systems that are broken, so I think AMOR is something that can support us long-term.”

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