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Loving our neighbors with Restoration Immigration Legal Aid

A mural at a facility near the U.S.-Mexico border at El Paso, where many RILA clients enter.

What is Restoration Immigration Legal Aid?

Before I started working with Incarnation, I was very blessed to spend several years on staff with our friends at Restoration Immigration Legal Aid (RILA). I had felt drawn towards working with immigrants for some time, but was completely captured by RILA's vision for providing excellent legal services to immigrants with the fewest resources. RILA primarily represents immigrants who are seeking asylum in the United States due to a fear of harm in their home country. But asylum is a long process, it can take many years, and in this area, there are very few low or no cost organizations that will represent immigrants going through the whole process. And, though asylum seekers aren't required to have legal representation, the process is complex, detailed, and difficult to negotiate in English, and asylum seekers are significantly more likely to be granted asylum if they are represented by one.

A's story

But more than providing excellent, no-cost legal services, RILA strives to see its clients as whole people: being compassionate, prayerful listeners to their stories of grief and trauma, and coming alongside them as they try to make a life in the United States. A. was a client that I had met in 2019, when she was a teenager newly arrived from Central America. At our first meeting, she told me that she came to the U.S. because her family lived in a dangerous neighborhood. But after subsequent meetings, she began to share some really tragic stories of violence against girls her age who refused to join local gangs, as well as some specific threats that a gang member made against her. It was clear to us that she had an asylum claim, so RILA filed an application on her behalf. While awaiting the outcome of her case, she let RILA know that she will be welcoming a baby boy in June!

It may sound unusual for a legal representative to be involved in the details of a pregnancy or delivery, but very often these clients' pregnancies had some bearing on their legal case, like a due date coinciding with a court appearance, or concerns about bringing a newborn into a precarious living situation. You can check out this blog on RILA's website for more detailed info and stories of other clients. But as everyone who has ever walked alongside someone who is pregnant knows, babies require a lot of stuff that can be expensive. So RILA has developed a practice of offering expectant moms a care package of specific baby items, usually provided by a community member or partner organization.I am so glad to have the opportunity to "shower" her with love and practical help as she prepares for the arrival of this little one.

It's this holistic care for clients really makes RILA distinctive, and where we as Incarnation can participate in the amazing work that they're doing in two different ways (or both, why choose!).

Option #1: Serve or contribute to a meal for RILA clients

The heart of RILA's work is its twice monthly legal clinic, where a group of clients come in to meet with RILA's staff and volunteers and make progress on their cases. The practice is to begin clinics with a communal meal where clients, staff, and volunteers can eat together. This communicates such welcome and care to the clients, helps to establish trust, and sets a positive tone for time that can be quite difficult for clients.

Incarnation folks serving dinner at a RILA clinic!

So, there are two opportunities here. First, sign up to contribute a dish to the meal before clinic on Wednesday, May 25. Popular main dishes include a crock pot of chili or soup, a tray of rice and beans, a baked pasta dish, or even a couple of rotisserie chickens cut up for serving. Sides and desserts can include salads, baked beans, fruit, chips and salsa, and cookies are always very popular! These items can be dropped off at Restoration Anglican Church (1815 North Quincy Street in Arlington) in the afternoon or early evening on Wednesday, May 25.

Or, if you would like to contribute something but are unable to make a drop-off, email me and we can make an alternate plan. Also, if you're free that evening, you can join us at RILA's clinic to help with set up and serving the meal from 6:00-7:30pm. Visiting clinic is such an amazing way to learn about and experience RILA's work, and it is genuinely so much fun. Sign up or email us to let you know you'd like to come, and we'll send more details!

Option #2: Provide baby items to an expectant RILA mom

During my time with RILA, some of my most transformative experiences happened in supporting clients who were expecting a baby. Having a baby is a huge life change for anyone, but imagine doing it in a strange country, maybe even without the support of family or friends. So when A. let RILA know that she was expecting a baby in June, my friends on staff reached out to me and asked if Incarnation would be interested in providing her care package, and I jumped at the chance. Right now she is quite literally our neighbor in South Arlington!

I am so glad to have the opportunity to "shower" her with love and practical help as she prepares for the arrival of this little one. You can sign up to purchase items off this list (and used items are also welcome so long as everything is clean and in like-new condition!). Donations can be brought to church next Sunday, May 22, or you can email me if you need to make an alternative arrangement.


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