ILJ-MI’s 2023 Year-in-Review

2023 year in review (1)

 Immigration Law & Justice Michigan has had a productive year. Most importantly, we’ve served more clients. We changed our name. With the generosity of grant funders, we were able to add staff and focus on employee wellbeing. We’ve expanded our community outreach, education and advocacy initiatives. Here’s a review of what our donors, funders and faith community supporters made possible this year.  

   

Name Change 

This year, the formal name of our organization changed from Justice for Our Neighbors Michigan to Immigration Law & Justice Michigan. As we like to point out, it’s a different name, but the same mission. Following the lead of our national network and with its financial support, we chose this name to describe the work we do and the people we serve. We’ve had a great response to our new name, logo, website and materials.  

Client Stories

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The resilience and perseverance of our clients is a resounding theme. This year, we’ve seen decades-long immigration battles come to heartwarming conclusions and stories of pain and anguish become stories of triumph. It’s been our honor to serve these clients and share their inspiring stories.  

One example is Rosa Lopez, an immigrant from El Salvador who came to ILJ-MI in 2015 as a battered victim of abuse. With the assistance of Legal Co-Director Jenny Rosario, Rosa reaped the benefits of her hard work over the past eight years when she became a U.S. citizen in September. She is now a grateful donor to ILJ-MI and is beginning the early processes of her mother’s immigration. 

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Similarly, Victor Lopez achieved great success this year after suffering a lifelong battle of abuse and uncertainty. Brought to the U.S. as an infant and encountering many significant challenges, the odds were stacked against Victor. Despite this, his immigration status has progressed over the years from undocumented to visa holder to lawful permanent resident in 2023. In June, he graduated with honors from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree. He intends to pursue an MBA.   

Client Statistics 

During the first 10 months of the year, ILJ-MI handled 1,144 cases for 783 clients, already a 15% increase over all of 2023.  From Mexico to the Republic of the Congo, we’ve served clients from 83 countries. In the six-month period from May to October, we had to turn away 64 clients because our legal staff had full caseloads.   

We’re proud to serve specific groups that require increased attention due to world events. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, our offices have served over 100 new Ukrainian clients. From those seeking temporary refuge from the war to those looking for more permanent options in the U.S., Ukrainian clients have comprised almost a third of our client base in Traverse City. 

Staff Development 

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A major highlight in 2023 was promoting our staff’s wellbeing! We received an incredibly generous grant from the Stryker Johnston Foundation focused solely on helping our staff members prevent burnout while managing their heavy workloads.

As part of the grant, we held two in-person all-staff wellness retreats. These retreats aimed at thoughtfully boosting team morale and offering support and guidance to staff members dealing with secondary trauma in their jobs. Our October 2023 retreat was hosted in Grand Rapids and featured professional programming from “The Failure Lab,” meditation and yoga workshops and collaborative cooking classes geared towards fostering staff team building. 

Advocacy, Education and Community Outreach

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It was exciting to offer presentations to faith communities across the state and to several colleges and universities. These collaborations with educational institutions and congregations of all faith traditions provide opportunities to engage with current and new partners. Not only do we help raise awareness about immigration policies and legislation, but we also find new volunteers and interns. 

Other activities include the 10-year anniversary of our visitation program to the detention center in Monroe; the hiring of our Immigrant Justice Advocate in Kent County; a well-received session on Immigration Court with ILJ-MI Board member, Dr. Maya Barak and the plight of Ukrainians in Michigan.  

We focused advocacy efforts on calling for the passage of Drive SAFE legislation in Michigan, Congressional support for the Afghan Adjustment Act, protesting harmful new restrictions on immigrants and pop-up clinics in collaboration with law firm Miller Johnson.   

 

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