This Spring, the Cisneros Center is partnering with several nonprofit organizations and Tyson Foods to offer workplace education to immigrant and migrant workers at the Randall Rd. Plant. This novel program allows workers to access services that help them improve their lives and increase their independence.
Legal Aid of Arkansas is one of the fantastic organizations participating in the Workplace Education Program. Read our interview with Casey Trzcinski, a Navigator and Attorney there.
Are there any major legal challenges that you see immigrants face?
With the immigrant community specifically, predatory tax preparers really take advantage, especially here in Northwest Arkansas. People who’ve recently immigrated to U.S. understand that each spring they need to file their taxes but they don't understand why. Often there is confusion over what that filing really means, what their rights and obligations are, and what to expect of a tax preparer. We see these tax preparer pop-up shops that show up in the spring time who are here for a few months and just leave town right after that. They do really awful things to the immigrant community because they don't think there will be consequences.
Another big issue for the immigrant community is used car dealerships. They are not offering translation services or contracts in the native language of the person that they are dealing with. People may not understand what their rights and obligations are when they sign. There is a bit of a confusion there and certain organizations do take advantage of that.
How can people access your services?
We prefer to do our intakes by phone, which anyone can do by calling 1-800-952-9243. When someone calls the Helpline, the first person that they speak to will be a paralegal or a legal secretary who will go through our basic screening questions to make sure that the person is eligible for our services. They’re going to be looking to see if its is a case type that we do specialize in. We don’t do any criminal cases besides criminal evictions, so most of those calls are screened out immediately. They are also making sure that the case is in our service area. We serve 33 counties in Northern and Eastern Arkansas, so from Northwest Arkansas to West Memphis. They also screen to make sure the person meets our income and asset limitations. Most of our cases have an income limit of 125% of the federal poverty level, so we can make sure the people we are serving are truly indigent. That limit can be raised to 200% in certain situations.
Once a person meets all those screening requirements then they are put through an attorney. The attorney will ask them questions about their legal issues and try to provide advice and information on the phone right away, and then we will assess the case as a group to see if it is something that we are capable of taking on for extended representation. If we accept the case for extended representation, then that person will have an attorney representing them in court, drafting pleadings, or doing whatever the case requires.
Do you feel like people take advantage of the resources that you provide?
With immigrant communities, the way to really have a meaningful presence and truly address their concerns through building a trusting relationship. The longer we work with these communities and the more word of mouth is able to spread, I think the more good we are able to do and the more they trust us to handle their legal issues.
We also try to work with our community partners to help provide extra services. We work closely with the Arkansas Coalition Marshallese, the United Way, local domestic violence shelters, and other various organizations. We try to go out into the community and provide education in addition to emergency legal case work. We want to stop someone from signing a predatory lending contract instead of trying to help him after that car's been repossessed, so we try to do a little bit of both preventive and remedial services. The preventative work is just as important as addressing it when it becomes an emergency issue.
If the whole immigrant community knew that we were here and what we help with, that would be wonderful. In an ideal world they wouldn't need to us, but until we reach that point we are here to help. The education part of what we do is very important to help us get our faces out there as a reliable source. Hopefully they don’t have a problem, but if they do, come to us and we will see what we can do.
How is Legal Aid of Arkansas participating in the Tyson Foods Workplace Education Program?
So far we’ve hosted a tax class in English and Marshallese to talk to Tyson employees about their rights and obligations as taxpayers and tax filers. We talked about what to expect from an encounter when they go to prepare their taxes, what it means to file your taxes--tax 101, basically. We also recently hosted a class on used car buying. We explained what to look for to avoid predatory dealerships, what that secured car loan means, what their obligations as a cosignor are, and some of the hidden costs to buying a car. We’re hoping to go back in their and address some if these consumer issues that we see as being problematic in our community.
Posted on 05/11/2016 at 12:00:00 AM