The Rapidian

Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates receives $30K grant from community foundation

Funds will be used to provide low-cost immigration legal services
Underwriting support from:

Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates

Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates (LIA) is a law office that brings stability to West Michigan families and communities through legal services and advocacy. Families who are constantly in fear of deportation; families who lack access to quality, low-cost legal services; families who are unauthorized to work; and/or families who are trapped in violent situations—all struggle to maintain stability and economic security. Such families lead to instability in our communities, schools, and workplaces. This is an issue that impacts everyone in our community: rich and poor, young and old, citizen and noncitizen.

Founded in response to this instability among many of our most vulnerable neighbors, LIA provides high-quality legal services for a nominal fee. LIA also advocates through community education, internships and volunteer opportunities, and public awareness campaigns. These services work toward ensuring family economic security, unifying families, and detecting and preventing violence in our community.

LIA is located at:

665 136th Avenue,  Suite 150
Holland, MI 49424

(616) 298-8984

LIA banner

LIA banner

The Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area has awarded a $30,000 grant to Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates, a nonprofit immigration legal services provider in Holland that serves surrounding counties. The grant aims to help area immigrants obtain legal aid at low cost, for cases ranging from asylum to family petitions to citizenship.

This award is the first major grant Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates (LIA) has received since opening its doors in November of last year. “We are so thankful for the faith the Community Foundation has in us as a brand-new organization,” said Sarah Yore-Van Oosterhout, executive director and senior staff attorney at LIA. “This will help us immensely in our mission of bringing stability to West Michigan families and communities through our legal services programs.”

According to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly three percent of Ottawa County residents—or 8,020 residents—were noncitizens in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available. This category includes lawful permanent residents, asylees, refugees, those with temporary visas, and unauthorized immigrants. Taking into account the surrounding four counties that LIA also serves—Kent, Allegan, Barry, and Muskegon—that figure increases to more than 40,000 people.

Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates is the only low-cost immigration legal services provider based in Ottawa County. As such, it is many noncitizen residents’ only source for legal aid. “In most cases, unauthorized immigrants and those seeking refuge and asylum simply cannot afford legal services at market prices,” explained Kiely King, staff attorney at LIA. According to data from the Migration Policy Institute, nearly 13,000 unauthorized immigrants live in the five-county zone mentioned above. “They are among our society’s most vulnerable residents,” she added, “and they need help to achieve lawful status for themselves and their families in the United States.”

Over the past five months, more than 90 families have sought legal services at LIA. Of that number, 46 of those consultations have resulted in active and ongoing immigration cases. “Notably, we have already received approval notices for seven cases,” said Executive Director Yore-Van Oosterhout. “With this grant we hope to continue to see these numbers grow.”

To help reach more families in need of immigration legal services, LIA has begun to send “mobile clinics” to area churches, factories, and migrant-worker camps beginning this April. LIA attorneys staff these clinics, and offer consult services like those offered on Walk-In Tuesdays.

LIA’s Walk-In Tuesday program is a model that Yore-Van Oosterhout encountered in her first years of practice as an immigration attorney, one that seems to meet the needs of the immigrant community, according to her, but is underutilized by other legal services providers in the region. Every Tuesday, LIA—which is located at the Macatawa Resource Center on 136th Ave.—opens its doors from 9:00AM to 6:00PM for first-come, first-served consultations with one of LIA’s two immigration attorneys. LIA charges a nominal $30 fee for these consultations, waivable for victims of domestic violence, persons living in shelters, and/or juveniles.

Beyond offering legal services, LIA also works to educate the community at large about immigration issues. Yore-Van Oosterhout frequently speaks at area churches, schools, and courthouses to help residents understand this complex, divisive realm of law. “In my time working in West Michigan, I’ve detected a fundamental deficit of knowledge, understanding and information about immigration law and procedure at all levels,” she explained. “When creating LIA, I knew education had to be a principal focus of the overall program.”

The Community Foundation grant will be paid out over the next three years, and will cover a portion of LIA’s budget for legal services. In 2015, the Foundation’s “Community’s Endowment” awarded more than $400,000 in grants to local nonprofit organizations. “These funds are an encouragement to everyone at Lighthouse,” said Carola Carassa, president of LIA’s board of directors, “and we hope to continue with the partnership.”

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