Increasing Access: Integrating Holistic Well-Being

By: 
Erika Murcia

I am an intake coordinator with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center since March this year. My position is to support all our staff in the Washtenaw county office with the management of our robust intake system and with capacity building in the Detroit Metro area. This year alone, we have had an increase in detained intakes of 500% and our overall intakes have doubled. This only means that human rights of immigrants are being violated more and in various new ways.  Through December 3, we have opened 2,678 cases this year. Most of these cases were opened via our two phone intake lines.

In 2018, between March and June we developed a customized Needs Assessment survey questionnaire which was used to gauge the gaps in immigrant legal services in the Detroit Metro area, and to identify the barriers that exist for immigrant legal service providers in satisfying the most pressing unmet needs in the community. Representatives of 19 immigrant legal service providers completed the survey. The report & findings helped us better understand the gap in needs and services available especially for individuals who are in removal proceedings.

Thus, through our Detroit Front Door Program we have added a new intake line. Since 2010 a general public intake line has been available to ask any immigration inquiries/consultations (734-239-6863). This year a detainee intake line has been destined specifically for low-income immigrants who are in detention. These clients can call directly from the detention center at no cost (734-794-9963). Therefore, our phones have been literally ringing more than twice as often as last year.

Our work at MIRC also includes creating partnership and building capacity in collaborative ways. I noticed the need to have more social workers exposed to our legal immigration pro bono work. In September we officially became a field placement for social work students from the University Of Michigan School Of Social Work. We hope this will create long lasting opportunities both to educate students on the great legal needs immigrants face but most importantly to take into account the voices and skills of social workers within legal settings. This may strengthen our work from an interdisciplinary standpoint.

Working at a legal office has offered the opportunity to better understand the various challenges attorneys face when representing immigrants. Among these challenges, we've shared in many accomplishments over this past year. First, I have worked on developing mindfulness strategies at MIRC to enhance awareness when working with trauma survivors and at the same time understanding how vicarious trauma impacts our own life as advocates. MIRC has also established our Racial Equity Working Group where I participate in its space for dialogue, reflection and action steps to improve our direct services, capacity building and coalition building work. Finally, our work has been showcased through two pieces I have co-authored and shared in Race Forward’s publication ColorLines Driving While Black, Riding While Brown and Immigrant Rights Defenders: Walking in Crossroads.