As leaders of community-based organizations in Tennessee, we’ve seen firsthand the devastating and disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Immigrants have been on the frontline of this pandemic— keeping us safe, healthy, and fed, but our communities have been largely left out of COVID recovery due to lack of immigration status.
As we work to rebuild from the economic and health consequences of the pandemic, we need to ensure an equitable recovery for all, and that means investing in the communities that have been the backbone of the pandemic response and have been hit hardest.
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Nashville is an immigration legal services desert
Thanks to funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, we now have an opportunity to make critical investments in our communities that will benefit our diverse population.
Our organizations provide critical services to Nashville residents who come from all over the world and who have been essential workers in many of our industries. The American Rescue Plan Act provides funding to state and local governments across the country to invest in communities most impacted by the public health emergency and has provided flexibility so that the funds will be used to promote strong equitable growth.
We applaud Metro Council in joining localities across the country in strengthening our immigration legal services infrastructure by choosing to boldly support and invest in immigrant and refugee communities.
By making an investment in our organizations to build capacity, Davidson County is demonstrating its commitment to mitigating the pandemic’s disproportionate harm to low-income people and communities of color and seeding transformative, long-term policies that will provide long-term benefits to our county.
Access to an immigration attorney is scarce and unevenly distributed across the United States, but it is especially scarce here, in Davidson County. We live in an immigration legal services desert. Investing in immigration legal services is imperative for equitable access to due process.
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Local solutions are helping local families
When immigration legal service organizations like ours assist a client, they highlight the difference good legal help can make in the lives of immigrants and their families.
For example, our accredited representatives or attorneys can identify when an immigrant does not meet the eligibility criteria to apply for U.S. citizenship and should not apply, thus keeping some who are ineligible out of jeopardy of deportation.
We know that Congress is long overdue to enact widespread immigration relief, but thanks to the investment by Metro, we can ensure that we're doing everything we can at the local level to assist with providing critical protections that keep families together.
Davidson County is joining other state and local governments in using lessons and firsthand expertise of their own communities to invest in providing essential services to immigrants to keep families united and increase access to opportunities for its essential workforce.
Through this important investment in our organizations, Davidson County is building a shared, more equitable future for all its residents. And though there is still so much more Metro Council must do to support our immigrant and refugee communities, investing in legal services is a step in the right direction.
Lisa Sherman Luna is executive director of Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition.
Tessa Lemos Del Pino is executive director of Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville's investment in immigrant services keeps families together