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Legal services for immigrants have ramped up. Have financial ones?

David Brancaccio May 8, 2017
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An undocumented immigrant walks through a corridor while taking refuge at the First Baptist Church in Denver, Colorado.
John Moore/Getty Images

With the Trump administration taking a tougher line on immigration and border security, a lot of groups have ramped up legal services for noncitizens. But when it comes to financial information and resources, a new gap may be emerging.

Families experiencing an immigration emergency may suddenly face thousands of dollars in attorney fees, bail and lost income if a breadwinner is detained.

That’s why the San Francisco-based Mission Asset Fund is planning to launch a new emergency program to support families in crisis. It’s a nonprofit that helps low-income people, often in immigrant communities, obtain financial services.

 Jose Quiñonez, the organization’s founder and CEO said he encountered one family whose main breadwinner who was detained for over a month.

“The financial ramifications of that particular event in that family’s life was just devastating,” he said.

The program would provide families with up to $1,500 to help offset whatever fees they might have to deal with, Quiñonez said.  Those without savings or access to credit are especially vulnerable to high-interest loans that could trap them in debt for years.

“Sometimes when they don’t have access to [money], they have to sort of go to the predatory loans that might actually be extremely expensive for them,” he said.

The organization plans to pilot the program in San Francisco, with the possibility of nationalizing it. Mission Asset Fund has also created an emergency action plan for immigrants that counsels them with advice like obtaining a bank account and making sure they have online access to it.

“We never want to lose hope that at some point, our immigration system is going to get fixed so that people can really, truly come out of the shadows and really participate in our society fully,” Quiñonez said.

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