Tellez providing immigration services in Worthington
WORTHINGTON — For more than 15 years, the Immigrant Law Center in Worthington, a non-profit organization, has provided immigrant services to thousands of people in the area.
Enrique Tellez, predecessor to Kathy Klos, is the only staff attorney for the Immigrant Law Center in all of southwest Minnesota. He assists with four major areas in immigrant services: to keep families intact; help people escape persecution and abuse; protect the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental liberties of immigrants; and help people become U.S. citizens.
“A lot of my cases are bringing refugees here,” Tellez said. “Worthington has a big refugee population, and I help them attain a visa for that. We also assist in individuals filing asylum applications, which involve assisting battered immigrant women and children in filing Violence Against Women Act petitions, as well as people that may be victims of serious crimes, in which case we help them get what are called U-Visas.”
The Immigrant Law Center also presents appeals in court to defend the liberties of immigrants and assists clients in preparing and presenting citizenship applications, as well as with passing exams.
“I think the common misconception is that the citizenship process doesn’t take long or even that immigrants gain status as soon as they enter the country, and that’s just not the case,” Tellez explained.
“In order to gain an adjustment of status, which is a green card, the process takes three to five years to apply for citizenship. Once applied, it takes two to three weeks for the application to process. After that they go through a security and fingerprint process, which can take months for them to be cleared.”
There is a great demand in southwest Minnesota for these services, according to Tellez.
“My case load fluctuates a lot, but I would say I have between 75 to 90 cases at one time,” Tellez said. “We also refer a lot of people to our offices in St. Paul if we do not have the resources to help them. So, we get hundreds of people looking for these types of services in the area.”
In order to receive these services, one must be eligible. The Immigrant Law Center has a lengthy requirement list for an immigrant to be considered. Income, the type of immigration case and available staff resources in the area are all factors in someone receiving these services.
All client income must be at or below 187.5 percent of the federal poverty line. For example, for a family size of four, the annual income should only be $44,719, according to the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota website.
“Since we are a non-profit organization, we do need to have an income requirement, unlike — let’s say — a public defender, which is funded by the government for their specific services,” Tellez explained.
The type of immigration case also plays a role in determining who can take advantage of these services.
The Immigrant Law Center can only assist in immigration-related cases. Immigrants who also need help with another area of law — such as housing, family law, public benefits or employment — won’t be able to receive that type of assistance.
In addition, like every service provider, the Immigrant Law Center does not have unlimited staff resources. Even though a client may qualify for the services, it may refer someone to other offices, or in some instances turn down cases.
“Since we only have one staff person for all of southwest Minnesota, I would say in every case we accept, we turn away two to four cases,” said John Keller, executive director for the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. “However, the cases that we do accept are extremely successful.”
In 2011, the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota released its latest client statistics.
It provided legal services to 3,580 people, with 40 percent of the cases being brief advice and 60 percent of cases full representation.
Serving clients from 100 different countries, nearly 33 percent of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota clients are Hispanic, 26 percent Asian, 13 percent from Central America, 4 percent from South America and 4 percent “other,” according to the 2011 cases by Client Region of Origin.
Here in Worthington, Tellez is taking the opportunity to get involved in the community to inform citizens about the services the law center provides.
“I work with the schools and the Minnesota Literacy Council, and I also partner with the Southwest Crisis Center to assist some of their clients who are immigrants and have been victims of domestic violence,” Tellez explained. “I also participate in presentations at the Nobles County Integration Collaborative to talk briefly about what I do and what our services offer.”
Tellez said his work not only affects the Worthington community, but southwest Minnesota as a whole.
“I think all of our clients are always so grateful and appreciative of our services. It’s so amazing to reunite family members and see how happy they are.”
The Immigrant Law Center has been a part of the Worthington area since 1998 and has a long history with the area.
“We’re thrilled to be a partner with Worthington,” Keller said. “We definitely know that this is an important place for our services to be available. We have open arms, not only to the immediate Worthington community, but to the broader community.”
For more information on the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, visit www.ilcm.org or call 1-800-223-1368.
Daily Globe Reporter
Erin Trester may be reached