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Nonprofit expands immigration services to Waco

14 Jan 17
Rebecca Larsen
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Waco Tribune 
By Shelly Conlon
Full Story here

A Waco resident is helping Austin- and San Antonio-based nonprofit group American Gateways expand services to protect immigrants in the Waco area.

American Gateways’ staff attorney, Anali Looper, opened an office Monday at Waco’s Good Neighbor House, 2301 Colcord Ave., to take on a variety of immigration cases. The Good Neighbor House serves as a safe space to connect community members with local resources.

“I was working at Habitat for Humanity and really decided I wanted to contribute something, anything, to the immigrant population, and I realized I thought my skill set would be best used as an immigration lawyer,” Looper said. “I’ve had several people encourage me in that direction, and so I’ve been working in Austin with American Gateways for the last two years and really, all along, hoping to bring them here.”

The decision to expand comes at a time of anxiety and worry across the country after President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on promises to build a border wall, strictly enforce immigration laws and detain people waiting on immigration hearings. Trump’s inauguration is Friday.

“While there are many illegal immigrants in our country who are good people, this doesn’t change the fact that most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers, and that these illegal workers draw much more out from the system than they will ever pay in,” Trump said during an Aug. 31, 2016, rally in Arizona.

“But these facts are never reported. Instead, the media and my opponent discuss one thing and only this one thing: the needs of people living here illegally.

“The truth is, the central issue is not the needs of the 11 million illegal immigrants or however many there may be. That has never been the central issue. It will never be the central issue,” Trump said.

While she is waiting to see what the new president will do once he takes office, Looper said American Gateways has seen an increase in cases since Election Day.

“I spent that Wednesday just returning phone calls to people who were scared and wondering what was going to happen,” Looper said. “There’s just a huge need everywhere in the country for qualified immigration practitioners to help people. Unfortunately, what often happens when there’s not enough attorneys or accredited representatives who help with immigration cases is something called notario fraud: basically, notary publics who help people with their immigration cases.

‘We need more’

“It’s unauthorized and it’s illegal for them to do that, and often they severely mess up people’s cases and can really hurt people’s chances. . . . Yes, the election does mean more people need help, but I think all along there’s been a great need here in Waco, and there are some folks helping, but we need more to do that.”

Looper opened the office with the help of a grant from the Texas Bar Foundation, which allows her to spend part of the week in Waco and part of the week in Austin, working primarily on crime victims’ visas and family-based immigration cases, she said.

Barbara Bridgewater, a case manager with Compassion Ministries, said she couldn’t agree more with Looper’s assessment of Waco’s need for additional immigration services. She and Looper attended church together for 19 years, and Bridgewater serves as president of the board for the Good Neighbor House. At Compassion Ministries, which is a transitional housing facility, Bridgewater helps Spanish-speaking families and residents working toward their GED.

There are many qualified lawyers in Waco, but they tend to not know enough about immigration, Bridgewater said. Looper’s arrival has empowered Compassion to connect clients with services for a broader range of immigration issues.

Looper, who attended Waco High School, said she wants to get to a point when she can be in Waco full time and handle a couple hundred cases a year, instead of commuting back and forth to Austin. Until she can find permanent funding to support the Waco operation, she anticipates being in town Mondays and Fridays, but times could change from week to week, she said.

“Now there’s some hope, and we know Anali can’t solve all the immigration issues in Waco, Texas. I know that,” Bridgewater said. “But there are some she can work on, and what I find is that it offers some hope in this kind of big, vast sea of things that are both overwhelming and sometimes appear hopeless.”

For more information, call Looper at 512-806-6531 or email her at analig@americangateways.org.

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