Connecticut has the fastest growing and one of the largest populations of foreign-born residents in the country. According to 2014 U.S. Census statistics, Hartford County has an immigrant population of 132,944, of which 63,242 are not U.S. citizens. This multicultural population is often in need of assistance in navigating the incredibly complex immigration pathways to naturalization or temporary/permanent residency.
Thanks to a three-year, $160,860 grant to the John J. Driscoll United Labor Agency, Inc. from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, hundreds of Greater Hartford residents will have access to free individualized immigration and employment assistance.
“We are very grateful to be able to partner with the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to provide services to this particularly vulnerable population,” said Amy Blackwood, executive director of the United Labor Agency. “Many undocumented immigrants are already a part of the state’s labor force but their immigration status makes them susceptible to exploitation, which undermines everyone’s wages and working conditions. Bringing these workers out of the shadows will reduce problems of wage theft and unsafe workplaces.”
United Labor Agency’s Immigration Advocacy and Assistance Program combines legal employment and supportive services that help to simplify the immigration and employment process for local immigrants. Many of these individuals and families are unable to afford a private immigration lawyer, and immigrants representing themselves are generally less successful in seeking permanent residence or citizenship than those with legal counsel. Those who are unfamiliar with the law can make legal mistakes that could eliminate their chance of obtaining permanent residency and even lead to their deportation. Many immigrant workers, particularly those in low-paying positions, are unaware of labor laws and are at an increased risk of employer violation and discrimination.
United Labor Agency’s Immigration Advocacy and Assistance Program is modeled after a successful program implemented in New Jersey that provides a wide variety of services to support individuals seeking Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) certification or Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA). DACA applies to certain people who came to the United States as children and meet several key guidelines. These individuals may request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and would then be eligible for work authorization. DAPA applies to certain undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States since 2010 and have children who are American citizens or lawful permanent residents.
Individuals who can demonstrate through verifiable documentation that they meet these guidelines will be considered for deferred action. Determinations will be made on a case-by-case basis under the guidelines set forth in the Secretary of Homeland Security’s memorandum. Deferred action is not full legal status, but offers a three-year, renewable work permit and exemption from deportation.
ULA staff will work with clients to determine eligibility for citizenship and potentially DACA or DAPA, collect documentation, complete paperwork and online applications, set up classroom training, apply for fee waivers and scholarship opportunities and refer/review applications with an affiliated immigration attorney. As needed, Hartford Legal Group is partnering with ULA to provide pro bono legal services. Hartford Legal Aid will also work with clients who need more extensive legal review beyond consultation and application assistance provided by ULA. All of these services will be offered at ULA’s Workers’ Center in Hartford’s Parkville neighborhood.
“Greater Hartford’s immigrant population is underrepresented and underserved and many individuals and families simply do not have legal resources to navigate the complex immigration system,” said Dawn Grant, program officer at the Hartford Foundation. “Having a program that combines employment services and other supports ensures immigrants know their rights in the labor force.”
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding communities. In 2015, the Foundation celebrated ninety years of grantmaking in the Greater Hartford region, made possible by the gifts of generous individuals, families and organizations. It has awarded grants of more than $650 million since its founding in 1925. For more information about the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, visit www.hfpg.org or call 860-548-1888.