Susan came to our nonprofit’s emergency shelter over a year ago. She had almost nothing to her name. And we were soon to find out that she pretty much was a nobody. Only because she did not have the proper identification documents, though. She desperately needed assistance, and she qualified for public and private programs both. Oh, except she didn’t. She really didn’t exist. She had no ID. So between our social services and legal services programs as well as other community workers, we went to work trying to track down the documents she needed and find ways to advocate for her existence. No public assistance. No way to get a job. Only emergency housing available. We needed to work fast. It took us a year. Yes, an entire year! From the Social Security Administration to the courts of Oklahoma to the Texas Department of Public Safety and to so many other places we went, advocating for her existence. And finally after waiting and waiting, only to be stonewalled time and time again, we decided to just have her get a legal name change. If the system won’t take you, then we will just work around it while working within it. Sometime that’s what it takes. All of us working together, making sure the Susans of this world are not forgotten and left alone to fend for themselves in a world that doesn’t seem to think they exist, just because they don’t have the right card or piece of paper.
Mr. and Mrs. Jones
A few months ago, after a long hot summer, a local veteran and his wife finally got their Air Conditioning and Heating unit fixed in their apartment. After several unsuccessful attempts to get the landlord to respond to requests for the repairs, this veteran sought the help of the Baylor Law School Veterans Clinic. Through our collaboration with the Veterans Clinic, we were able to represent the veteran in a pretty basic legal process of requesting repairs — in a way that got the attention of the landlord. Within a few days, the veteran’s AC/Heat unit was replaced and the veteran and his wife no longer had to worry about suffering through another hot summer or chilly winter. The legal process was fairly simple, but only if you knew what you were doing and biding by the law. The veteran could not access the “system” and get a basic need provided for because there are very few, if any, attorneys who will take on this type of situation, especially for little to no pay.
Raymond came to our First Monday Legal Advice Clinic a couple of months ago. After suffering from a work-related injury and spending several days in the hospital and at home recovering, Raymond returned to his place of employment — a mechanic shop — to pick up his personal tools. The employer refused to give Raymond his toolbox until Raymond provided him a hefty “storage fee”. However, this storage fee was never agreed on and fell under no legal requirement. Raymond felt taken advantage of and powerless to respond. Even if he could find an attorney that would take on a case like this, Raymond had no money to pay the attorney’s fees required. But through our Clinic and the help of some volunteer attorneys, law students and professors at Baylor Law School, Raymond received representation in his efforts to get back property that is rightfully his. And it is not just property, but in essence it is his livelihood, as he has not been able to work and earn a living without it. Raymond got his tools back and is now able to find stable employment.
The Cruz Family
A few months ago, the Cruz family was referred to our program. They were being threatened with complete family disrupture and a shattering of the only life that the three children had ever known. Faced with immigration removal proceedings and no extra money to hire another attorney, they were desperate for someone to help the children apply for the deferred action for childhood arrivals program. This administrative policy provides temporary legal status for young people who came to the United States before they turned 16 and fulfill several other requirements. Basically, it allows for young people to remain in the only country they have ever really called their home. As we provided the necessary legal services to this family at a significantly low cost to them, each child was able to receive this temporary legal status and continue to pursue their dreams of getting an education and building a better life in the United States. And it also allowed for the immigration judge to compassionately discern that this single mother family did not need to be shattered by an irrational and unbending immigration legal system.