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Different Approaches for Addressing Common Program Challenges

By Leya Speasmaker

How does your program respond to clients seeking to renew their Green Card? Here are two different approaches from affiliates in Texas. Alma Garza-Cruz from Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas in Beaumont responded to the following questions:

How do you currently respond to Green Card renewal applicants? We offer walk-in appointments on Fridays from 9AM – 3PM. Clients do not need to make an appointment in advance.  They must bring their paperwork and two money orders: one for Catholic Charities’ fee of $150.00 and one for the USCIS filing fee of $450.00. 

Why did your program decide to implement this approach? Before this initiative, clients seeking a Green Card renewal had to complete the typical client intake process, which includes intake and assessment, case selection, and a second appointment to complete the paperwork.  Due to scheduling availability and office processing times, clients would then need to wait an average of 2-3 weeks before our office actually filed their I-90. 

Many of the clients seeking to renew their Green Card come to us with “urgency.”  They realize their card has expired or is expiring in the very near future.  We found that the delay resulting from our typical office procedures prompted many to use quick responding notarios or insurance agents advertising preparation of immigration documents, etc. This new initiative helps to meet their need for immediate services, helps the clients avoid using the services of notaries, and helps our program to fulfill a need in the community.  While assisting the client in the renewal their Green Card, we take care to provide sound legal advice. We also use their appointment as an opportunity to discuss the naturalization process, the impact of crimes on immigration applications, and the responsibilities that Green Card holders have to the government.

What is impact of this approach on your program? The number of I-90s filed by our office is rising.  We have advertised in church bulletins, a Catholic newspaper, and at local Hispanic markets. We also mailed information about this service to over 600 employers in area. We issued a press release, and secured the services of a volunteer attorney who comes on Fridays to help us with the walk-in appointments. Through these advertising efforts, we have reached a greater market and are teaching the community the dangers of using unauthorized legal practitioners.

What is the community response to this approach? The community is glad that we have started this initiative. Clients like walking in without an appointment and being seen right away.  They also appreciate having the opportunity to avoid using the services of notarios.

Linda Brandmiller from Catholic Charities of San Antonio responded to the same questions as follows:

How do you currently respond to Green Card renewal applicants? Generally, our program does not help clients to renew their Green Cards.  If eligible, we encourage the client to file for naturalization instead. We ask two questions prior to accepting money for a consultation. The first is, “When does the card expire?”  This gives us an understanding of the time line and relevant options.  The second is, “Why are you renewing your LPR card, and why have you not applied for citizenship?” 

We provide a brief overview of why naturalization is an important step to take and how it can protect the client and their family. We explain that we offer two Saturday workshops per year (in the Spring and Fall) at a reduced fee of $50. Usually, the client will decide to proceed through the consultation process for naturalization screening (the $30 consultation fee is credited to the workshop fee).

If the client is not interested in naturalizing, we provide a referral to another local BIA program that charges a reduced fee to renew the card. We encourage the client to return to us when they are ready to consider naturalization. 

Why did your program decide to implement this approach?  We have a fundamental conflict with perpetuating an “underclass.”  We believe that people who maintain their LPR status are less likely to fully acculturate, will always be victims of changing laws and interpretations, do not have a true “voice” in the country since they cannot vote and are often written off as only “residents,” don’t qualify for full benefits, are always at risk of deportation, spend money unnecessarily on renewing a card that never provides permanency, generally have a longer wait time for petitioning relatives, and cannot petition for the full range of family members. Also, we have discovered recently that many LPR renewals may likely trigger a Notice to Appear due to past criminal history, fraud in obtaining the card, etc. Clients seek our services, “just to renew the green card” because they think that this application is safer to file and will escape detection, but we feel that this may not be the case.

What is the impact of this approach on your program? Some people walk away and state they won’t consider naturalization.  After understanding the full impact of remaining an LPR vs. transitioning to a USC, many clients choose to pursue naturalization. In the fairly rare circumstances where someone does not qualify to naturalize, we renew their LPR card with the explanation of what they need to do to become a citizen at the earliest possible time. Increased revenue is another impact we’ve seen because of this approach. We have more than doubled the participation in our most recent naturalization workshop and have seen increased requests for naturalization services in our office.

What is the community response to this approach?  As of yet, we have not heard of any significant community response one way or another.  As staunch advocates, even though our decision to not routinely renew LPR cards may be the road less travelled, we believe that sometimes you have to do something that may be a little more difficult but in the long-run has a better outcome for our clients.