Submit Content

Progressive Voice: Legal Help to the Rescue

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or

By Richard Sine

For undocumented immigrants with nowhere else to turn, access to affordable legal help can make the difference between stability and self-sufficiency and a life spent in the shadows.

Hurricane Mitch destroyed José Alvarado’s home and workplace in Honduras in 1999. Leaving his wife and two children behind, Alvarado traversed mountains to cross the U.S.-Mexico border under cover of night. He settled in Arlington, where he rented a corner of a room, found work in construction and started sending money home to begin the slow process of rebuilding.

“When I first came to this country I had no intention of staying,” he says. Steady work as a carpenter in the U.S. enabled Alvarado to rent his own apartment. Then one night he was stabbed by an acquaintance. Injured and unable to work, he lost his job and almost his apartment. A social services agency referred him to Just Neighbors, a nonprofit providing immigration legal services to low-income people. Services are free after a $100 intake fee.

Attorney Sarah Selim Milad informed him of the “U” visa for immigrant victims of specified serious crimes who cooperate in the prosecution of those crimes. Intended to help police fight serious crime and crime in neighborhoods with high numbers of undocumented people, the visa seemed to offer Alvarado a chance at legal residency.

Homesick and dispirited, Alvarado almost returned to Honduras anyway. But gang violence there was on the rise. A gang even extorted money from Alvarado’s brother by threatening his son. “It’s dangerous even for kids to go to and from school,” said Alvarado’s wife, Myrna.

So Alvarado began the long process of acquiring a work permit and legal residency via the “U” visa application. “It took so long that at one point I told Sarah [his lawyer] just to leave my case,” Alvarado says. “I was too tired to continue. But Sarah said, ‘No no, your case is coming together. You can do this’… She lifted my spirits.”

Alvarado received his visa in 2010, but it took three more years before Jose’s family was allowed to immigrate. Alvarado had not seen his family in 13 years. He’d never even met his third child, because the couple didn’t know that Myrna was pregnant when he left.

Without legal assistance, Alvarado says, there was no way he would have even known about the “U” visa, much less made it through the application process. Immigrants often fall prey to scammers promising visas, which makes legitimate organizations like Just Neighbors all the more important.

As long as it took the Alvarados to gain legal status through a “U” visa, it takes even longer today, about 11 years. The number of “U” visas has remained capped at 10,000, even as the number of applicants has soared to more than 110,000. (Similar visas exist for victims of domestic violence by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and for victims of human trafficking.)

Meanwhile, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s new tactic of arresting immigrants at courthouses is making immigrants more scared than ever to report crimes, according to a new ACLU report.

Today the Alvarados live in a two-bedroom basement apartment in a pleasant corner of Arlington. Jose works two jobs while Myrna is a housekeeper. The children, now older than 18, clean houses when they’re not in school. The oldest plans to attend college in the fall.

“I want [my children] to study so they can do what they want to do, so they don’t have to go through what I went through,” José tells me. “Instead of walking across the mountains, it’s better to be in the airplane looking down.”

Richard Sine is a writer and a volunteer for Just Neighbors.

Recent Stories

Arlington police cruisers were “significantly” damaged in two separate DUI crashes in September, according to ACPD. The police department said on social media that the crashes happened while “officers were…

The Arlington Mill neighborhood was the scene of one of the more unusual crashes in recent memory yesterday afternoon. Just before 4 p.m. Sunday, police and firefighters were dispatched to…

An Atlanta suburb is known for its “miles of natural, wooded beauty” — and its 10,000 golf carts. At 26.04 square miles, Peachtree City is just a touch smaller than…

Morning Notes

Grumbles About Car Tax — “County Board members have been getting their share of comments, too. ‘We have definitely heard some concerns,’ County Board Chairman Katie Cristol acknowledged, as elected…

Now you can have fun with your family and friends when deciding where to eat!

Just hop aboard The Lunch Train and set the destination for: breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or nightlife!

– No app necessary. Simply go to the website if you’d like!
– No account necessary
– Use your current location or a desired location
– Add restaurants you’re interested in, invite your friends, and play the game!

Submit your own Community Post here.

Lyon Park & Ashton Heights’ biennial home & garden biennial tour is back. The tour will include contemporary custom homes, older historic bungalows as well as renovated properties. One of the stunning homes on the tour is pictured above.  In addition to beautiful & unique homes, the Villa & Vistas ’22 event will conclude with a festive reception at the Lyon Park Community Center at 414 N Fillmore Street, Arlington VA 22201. What could be better right?

All proceeds from this event will go to the Lyon Park Citizens Association (LPCA) towards our neighborhood jewel & hub, the Lyon Park Community Center (LPCC).

When: Sunday, October 2nd, Noon – 4 PM. 

Where: Meet to get your tickets and the tour map at the Lyon Park Community Center (414 N Fillmore Street) We will have a table with information outside.

Read More

Submit your own Community Post here.

Homebuying 101: Steps to Getting Pre-Approved

Are you ready to jump into homeownership or started considering it but don’t know where to start? Financial preparation is key when thinking about purchasing your first home and the first step to getting pre-approved. Join ACFCU for our Homebuying

Pink Carpet Event Charity Fashion Show

The Pink Carpet Event Charity Fashion Show will feature our fabulous breast cancer survivors slaying the runway! Designers from Baltimore and the Washington, DC Metropolitan area will bring exquisite fashion and glamour to this event. Professional male and female designs


Subscribe to our mailing list