Raul arrived in Chicago in 1978. What was supposed to be a trip of three days transformed into half a lifetime. Like many other immigrant at that time, La Villita was the neighborhood where he landed, and where he has stayed, he formed his family in the neighborhood and watched two of his children grow up here. Raul was raised surrounded by the busy life of a market in San Luis, Potosi, Mexico. La Villita gives him a sense of comfort because he always sees people outside walking, wherever he goes. He has never thought about living in another neighborhood. About other areas of Chicago, he observes, “those neighborhoods with pretty houses, they always have empty streets.”
Raul found his way to Enlace’s Legal Clinic like most clients, through word of mouth. He came to the clinic intending to begin the process to become a citizen. He says, “they received me very well. The lawyer was friendly and gave me a lot of information.” Due to unforeseen difficulties, Raul decided to put off the process, but developed an excellent relationship with the people from the Legal Clinic and with Enlace. Thanks to the Clinic Coordinator, Raul learned he qualified to take the citizenship test in Spanish and he registered for classes at the Instituto del Progreso Latino. He explains, “I’m trying to prepare myself in the meantime and move forward for when I decide to restart the process of naturalization.”
Enlace Chicago and Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA) began to work together in 2013 with the goal of providing free consultation and legal services to residents of the community in the zip codes of 60623, 60624, 60632, 60608, and 60644. CALA’s lawyers have assisted over 1000 residents with legal issues involving immigration, family, employment, criminal law, public benefits and consumer rights.
The Legal Clinic operates weekly at Enlace’s office of 28th and Harding. Every Tuesday from 5 to 8 pm, lawyers from CALA meet with residents who require legal services. Perla Tirado, lawyer and Legal Clinic Coordinator, comments that with the new administration, immigration cases have risen “there is a great demand for services at the moment. My advice for all permanent residents who I see at the clinic is to start their citizenship process as soon as possible. In her experience as a lawyer, she says that people sometimes feel intimidated by the test but she, together with Sonia Orozco, Enlace Legal Clinic Coordinator, tells them about specialized classes to help them prepare for the test. “I have a list of resources in English and Spanish that I give to people where they can find help to prepare for the test,” says Sonia.
Perla Tirado started in January as CALA’s lawyer at Enlace. She has more than fourteen years of legal experience and La Villita is the neighborhood she grew up in. Today, she and her husband are also raising their family here. “La Villita is the neighborhood that witnessed my parents’ battles. I feel that I have a moral obligation to give. It’s my time to invest and give back.” Unfortunately, the capacity to serve everyone is limited, but “we have a real commitment and we try to serve as many as possible. We refer them out when we cannot handle their case.”
Sonia Orozco started to work at Enlace in October of 2016. For her it was an honor to come to work in La Villita because “this was the community that welcomed my parents when they came to Chicago from Mexico. The story of my parents is always present in my head and when I’m working as the Legal Clinic Coordinator. My parents worked hard and were able to get my brother and I to go to school. My mom always tells me that she would have liked to have organizations like Enlace when she came to Chicago and my brother was younger.”
This year, Enlace and CALA have trained more than 700 residents with workshops on Know your Rights, Citizenship, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Power of Attorney, and Short-Term Guardianship. The clinic plans to continue these in the future, to try to distribute needed and pertinent information about cases and to assist more community residents.
Our goal, Perla says, “is to come to the community to work.” That is why the clinic will continue to offer these services at the Enlace offices. “The lawyers are here in the community to serve the community. We don’t want people to have to leave their neighborhood to get the services they so urgently need.”