Since 2003 area immigrants have been able to visit the First United Methodist Church of Hyattsville for free legal advice from an immigration lawyer and now they can work toward citizenship through the church's free classes.
Immigration Clinic Coordinator Cindy Harding began the classes earlier this year to help the church's immigrant congregants and friends of congregants who wish to gain American citizenship.
"We had about five students and two of those went to interview and then become citizens," she said of her first class that met earlier this year.
Harding said she is working to gather a new group of immigrants to begin a class, which lasts up to 10 weeks, before the year is out. Her first students had all been in the country for many years and were able to go through the lessons in about five weeks.
"It depends on what level people are at when you start and how much you know," she said. "We also tell them about the interview process and what to expect."
FUMCHY has had a strong immigrant outreach program for years, working with Justice for Our Neighbors, it connects a national network of church-based, volunteer-led immigration clinics to asylum seekers and immigrants who need help navigating the rules and laws that affect their lives in the United States.
Once a month FUMCHY hosts an immigration clinic where immigrants are encouraged to schedule an appointment to meet with an immigration attorney and receive a free consultation.
The attorney offers free general legal advice and counsel on immigration status, but clients are required to pay for services if the attorney chooses to take on the case.
Harding said most of the immigrants who come to the clinics have had issues where their visas have expired due to a number of reasons.
"Quite a few have paid a lot of money to an attorney to file papers but for whatever reason it never happens. They wait and wait and wait and then five years have gone by, their visas expire and they can't find the attorney who helped them in the first place," she said of her experience volunteering with the clinic. "A lot of people that are illegal now did not come here illegally."
Harding said most of the immigrants who come to the clinics are African or Caribbean, and there are surprisingly few Hispanic clients.
"I think they're a little more afraid to come to us for help," she said. "But we don't deal with immigration [status] or with [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] in any way. Whatever they tell us in this building stays in this building."
Clinics are held at the church on the second Tuesday of 10 months out of this year. The next clinic is scheduled for Nov. 12. People who wish to schedule an appointment can call the church and ask for Harding.