Bethel Christian Reformed Church, Sun Valley, Calif., is located in a state that reports 2.5 million undocumented immigrants and in a community where 50 percent of residents are foreign born. In April 2, 40 participants attended a “Know Your Rights” workshop hosted by the church to gain legal insight about the rights of immigrants. Sara Van Hofwegen, supervising staff attorney with Public Counsel, presented the workshop, with private consultations following.
Public Counsel is a public interest law firm in Los Angeles, Calif., that provides free legal services to low income individuals and communities. Van Hofwegen explained that the firm’s Immigrants’ Rights Project represents particularly vulnerable immigrants, including asylum seekers, victims of crime, children facing removal from the United States, and detained immigrants.
As part of her introduction to the workshop, Van Hofwegen addressed concerns of subversion: “I will absolutely not be promoting anything illegal or advocating that people violate the law,” she said, as that would be a violation of her profession’s ethics. Van Hofwegen further clarified that the workshop would not be taking a political position.
“The [political] situation impacts families adversely, and they are fearful and anxious about government action,’ said Stewart Treiling, a member of Bethel CRC. “Aside from the broader issue of the morality of the removal of undocumented persons, they still have legal protections that are guaranteed by law, based on the constitution.
Rev. Micah Bruxvoort, pastor of Bethel CRC, said, “Many immigrants in our community have spent hard-earned dollars trying to legalize their residency in this country, only to find out later that they were following misguided legal advice.” In contrast, Pastor Micah countered that this workshop offered a list of places offering accessible, free, or low-cost legal advice. “We are commanded in Leviticus 19 to love the immigrant in our midst as ourselves. This is just one way of expressing our love and concern for our immigrant brothers and sisters,” said Pastor Micah.
Van Hofwegen said, "I hope that those who attended gained understanding of their own situations are better prepared for the challenges ahead, and are more equipped to help those who need our support.”