Metro Council approves nearly $2M grant to expand immigrant legal services

Posted at 9:03 AM, Jun 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-08 19:29:29-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Metro Council approved almost $2 million in grant money to help local immigrants who are applying to become citizens.

The funds will go to the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition and Tennessee Justice For Our Neighbors to be used for legal services. Both groups held a news conference before Tuesday night's council meeting.

"Immigration legal services are really hard for people to find," said Campaigns and Advocacy Director for TIRRC, Judith Clerjeune. "It's really expensive and so for a lot of our community members who are often most in need they often can't find quality immigration legal services."

Advocates say the money will be life-changing.

"A lot of asylum cases, whether it's Afghani refugees or Central American refugees, the need is the same," said Latinx Organizer at TIRRC, Jazmin Ramirez. "Low cost immigration services are non-existing in our city."

Officials said the investment is historic for the city of Nashville and legal services are crucial for immigrants as they navigate the citizenship process.

"While we are proud of the work we have accomplished, we know the need for services is greater than our current capacity. Last year, we counted nearly 1,500 phone calls or email inquiries from individuals seeking immigration information. Of those inquiries, our attorneys were only able to accept 321 new clients. Immigrants have the right to counsel in immigrant court," said Tessa Lemos Del Pino, executive director of Tennessee Justice For Our Neighbors.

It comes as the growth of Nashville's immigrant community is outpacing the resources organizations can provide. Take, for example, the 500 Afghan evacuees who sought refuge in Nashville just last year.

"Their deadline is approaching this fall," said Ramirez. "So, these services are at a time where the need is there, and meeting those deadlines is whether a family gets sent back home or not."

The money is part of a $3.5 million proposal to the Metro Council. Both organizations anticipate receiving the remainder of the funds by 2025.

The money will come from the American Rescue Plan Act.