Each May, the US celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. And with the rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans, this year's celebration feels more poignant than ever. Our AAPI neighbors must receive the support they need, which is why the DC Bar Foundation is proud to support the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC).
The APALRC ensures that DC's Asian Pacific American immigrant community has access to direct legal representation in domestic violence, immigration, custody, divorce, trafficking, and housing cases. The APALRC is committed to making sure that Asian Pacific American immigrants have direct access to people who can speak their language and connect them with the civil legal services they need.
Access to housing in the District is a significant issue, and the APALRC supports this area in several ways. We are happy to fund the APALRC's "Housing Development Project," which provides civil legal services to residents with low incomes in the District, most of whom are a part of the Wah Luck House Tenants Association and the Museum Square Tenants Association. Located in Chinatown, both properties are home to many Asian Pacific American immigrants with low incomes in the District. Residents at both facilities have fought attempts by the owners to sell and demolish the buildings and have managed to keep two of the few low-income housing units in the area.
The APALRC also supports individual tenants at risk of losing their homes. An older Asian immigrant who was facing eviction and did not speak English contacted the APALRC for help. Her husband, the leaseholder, passed away, and the landlord would not put the lease in her name because she did not have legal status. In reviewing her case, the APALRC found that while the US Citizenship and Immigration Services had approved her husband's family petition for her, she had never applied to be a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). The APALRC is assisting her in becoming an LPR to become the leaseholder and maintain her home.
I also want to provide a snapshot of the challenges faced by the APALRC's clients due to the pandemic. As the world began to shut down, immigration processes stalled. Many people expecting their families to travel to the US faced tremendous uncertainty as countries started to stop flights and halt immigration processes. Before COVID-19, it took three to four months for the US to process citizenship applications. Now, the process takes well over a year.
As the information on the pandemic changed daily, many of the APALRC's clients turned to the organization to understand critical issues such as the CARES Act, unemployment, and housing moratoriums. They also sought help with translating essential applications and documents. Most of the pandemic information was inaccessible to people who did not speak English or Spanish – the two languages in which most information was communicated.
In response, the APALRC sprang into action. They established a helpline in multiple languages, which allowed their clients to speak with someone in their language when seeking assistance. The APALRC began hosting presentations on the CARES Act in various languages to ensure that people in the Asian Pacific American immigrant community understood what it was and how it applied to them.
It has been well over a year since the pandemic began. Access to the civil legal aid network has never more been more urgent or essential. We proudly support the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center as they continue to ensure that Asian Pacific American immigrants in the District get the civil legal help they need.