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Minneapolis seeks to double funding for free immigration legal services

Two women sitting on a couch by a fireplace.
Clients for the International Institute of Minnesota sit in the Institute's lobby. The Institute is one of five immigration services being provided funding to give free immigration resources. (Courtesy of the International Institute of Minnesota)

The City of Minneapolis is adding more funding for free immigration legal services to its 2024 budget, as increasing numbers of immigrants and refugees make their home in the Twin Cities.

An expected influx of immigrants over the next few years has city officials looking for ways to bolster the city's immigration services and meet those communities where they are, rather than leaving them scrambling for resources.

The city says the aid is aimed at maintaining the safety and security of immigrants, and granting them expanded opportunities. There are more than 360,000 immigrants living in the Twin Cities.

Minneapolis Director of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs Michelle Rivero says funding for immigration legal services will increase from $125,000 to $275,000. That money is set to pay five organizations, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, Advocates of Human Rights, International Institute of Minnesota, and the Volunteer Lawyers Network to offer legal aid to immigrants, regardless of their immigration status.

“Obtaining secure immigration status is directly connected to maintaining safety and security for immigrants and their families as well as access to opportunity,” Rivero said. “Ideally, [with the passage of the budget] this month of November, the different legal service organizations that were selected, [will] offer a variety of immigration legal services from representation in immigration court removal proceedings to affirmative representations before USCIS in matters including asylum applications for U visas for victims of crime, temporary protected status and a variety of other applications.”

Rivero says the increased budget should enable the organizations to expand their capacity and be more effective getting their services to immigrant communities.

According to Immigration Impact, finding free legal services as an immigrant is harder than ever due to a massive uptick in cases, and the amount of representation has not increased. The same report found that immigrants who have representation are five times more likely to win their cases. Asylum seekers who have representation successfully submit asylum applications 78% of the time.

“We do have an ordinance that ensures that city staff are not permitted to interact or connect with immigration authorities for the purpose of removal proceedings – that is actually a requirement under our own city law. So people who connect with our offices, with city staff can rest assured that those interactions will not result in an immigration enforcement activity,” Rivero said.

The city of Minneapolis holds regular citizenship and immigration fairs, where the state provides resources for those who seek legal aid or help with their immigration into the U.S. Rivero says that there are also other opportunities for aid at those fairs for people with more specific needs.

“We've been very fortunate to have the participation of other entities at the city and at the state level, including the Attorney General's office and City of Minneapolis civil rights department,” Rivero said. “And so those are additional opportunities and spaces, where people who may be in a vulnerable situation, they're able to connect with someone in person and learn about how to obtain additional assistance.”

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