Mar 11, 2024 - News

New immigrants get legal aid in Denver through free clinic

A man in a white sweater and a black hat with a red cross looks on, while a white wall with numerous and colorful posters are placed.

Abel Enrique Rodriguez Vanegas poses for a photograph during a legal aid clinic hosted by the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition in Denver. Photo: Esteban L. Hernandez/Axios

For a handful of new immigrants, the path toward protected status and work authorization started in a nondescript office building in west Denver.

Zoom in: Dozens of people from Venezuela held manila folders with personal documents, filing for temporary protected status (TPS) and work permits during a free, all-day legal aid clinic Saturday.

  • The clinic was the first hosted by the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).

Why it matters: The demand for the clinic's services shows new immigrants are eager to obtain protective status and work permits.

By the numbers: At least 43 people registered for services, but a few walk-ins were accepted, bringing the total to about 60 people, AFSC program director Jennifer Piper tells us.

Yes, but: It's a fraction of the 40,000-plus who have arrived in Denver over the past year.

Reality check: It can take between six weeks to six months before permits arrive, Piper said. Additional steps, like setting up a fingerprint appointment, are required after applications are sent.

  • Piper says the clinic illustrates the "complicated" process for people to simply apply for TPS, which provides temporary deportation protection, and work permits that lead to more steady income.

What they're saying: "This has been an immense help," Evelin Urdaneta, who arrived last June from Venezuela, tells us in Spanish.

  • Urdaneta filed her application in January. She attended the clinic to complete similar steps for four of her children — which would have been costly without the help from the clinic.
  • Abel Enrique Rodriguez Vanegas, who arrived seven months ago from Venezuela, says he's planning on sharing details about the "helpful" clinic with others in the community.

What we're hearing: People we spoke to told us they learned about the clinic through local nonprofits, social media and word-of-mouth.

  • Piper says many new immigrants who stayed in city shelters are still connected with one another.

Between the lines: Attorney Ali Mickelson was among the volunteers who helped Saturday.

  • Mickelson specializes in advocacy work for an animal shelter, but said she wanted to help people in need, saying others like her who aren't familiar with the legal process can still lend a hand to immigrants.

What's next: Piper said the agencies want to run a similar clinic this summer for TPS applicants from Haiti and South Sudan.

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