People & Places

Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors holds annual fundraiser next month

Fundraiser focuses on raising funds to pay costs state and federal grants don't cover

Justice For Our Neighbors photos

The volunteers for Iowa Justice For Our Neighbors’ Cedar Rapids office.
Justice For Our Neighbors photos The volunteers for Iowa Justice For Our Neighbors’ Cedar Rapids office.
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A nonprofit organization devoted to helping immigrants with legal issues for the last 19 years is having its annual fundraiser next month to pay for costs that state and federal grants don’t cover.

Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors has been serving low-income clients across the state since 1999. The organization provides free, quality immigration legal services, education and advocacy. There are legal clinics open once a month in Cedar Rapids, Columbus Junction, Decorah, Des Moines, Ottumwa, Marshalltown and Storm Lake to help clients, who see one of the three immigration attorneys of the organization. The Cedar Rapids clinic has operated for 14 years.

The organization hopes to raise $100,000 this year to continue helping immigrants and refugees with work authorization, family reunification, escape from violence, naturalization and citizenship, DACA and advice and counsel, Sol Varisco Santini said.

The event will be at the Clark Alumni House at Coe College from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 6. There will be a luncheon and special music and dance by the Bhutanese Community of Eastern Iowa. There also will be keynote speaker, Deepa Iyer, a South Asian-American activist, writer and lawyer. She is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Social Inclusion, where she provides analysis and commentary on “equity and solidarity in America’s changing racial landscape.”

Iyer’s first book, “We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future,” received a 2016 American Book Award and was selected as a top 10 multicultural non-fiction book of 2015.  

Iyer also has served for many years as the executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, where she helped to shape the organization’s work on civil and immigrant rights issues, network building and solidarity. She also has worked as legal director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center and as a trial attorney with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where she helped with an initiative to address post-9/11 backlash with two other attorneys. 

Varisco Santini said volunteers who work at each of the clinics also will be recognized during the event, including Doris Knight of Des Moines, who will be presented with the Iowa Immigration Leadership Award. Knight was the first volunteer executive director for 15 years.  

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Varisco Santini, the first paid executive director who started last year, said the organization hopes individuals as well as businesses will make donations before or during the event.

The Iowa office accounts for 17 percent of the total clients of the national organization’s 5,000-plus clients. The Iowa organization helped 1,187 individuals with 2,490 cases from 130 different countries in 2017.

The 2017 year end statistics show 709 people received legal help to escape violence, such as domestic abuse or another crime, 750 received advice and counsel, 417 for work authorization, 392 family reunification and 222 for citizenship issues.

Varisco Santini said not all the clients that are included in the advice and counsel category probably resulted in actual cases because everyone initially is seen to find out their issue but not every case is accepted. One of the lawyers will try to refer to another lawyer outside the organization.     

The organization wasn’t able to help 846 people because they didn’t have capacity, or they had a legal issue outside of the typical issues the lawyers can handle, Varisco Santini said. These could be a number of issues, such as involving criminal charges.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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