For many immigrants arriving in the U.S., getting themselves situated with housing and navigating a path to citizenship can be quite daunting and overwhelming, especially since there are so many language and legal barriers in the way. That’s where Immigrant Rights Action comes into play. Founded in 2017 following an ICE raid in Doylestown, Immigrant Rights Action is an immigrant-led non-profit that offers legal services and basic support to migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in Bucks County. While most of their clients are from Mexico and Central America, the organization has recently seen an influx in new clients from South America and Ukraine.
According to Immigrant Rights Action Executive Director Heidi Roux, the organization is working to help empower immigrant families residing in the Bucks County area and help them build community support. “The first thing we do is ask if their basic needs are met,” Roux told the Bucks County Beacon. This includes making sure they have access to food, shelter, and clothing. “We had a family arrive two weeks ago from Ecuador and they did not have any cold weather clothing and it’s winter,” Roux said. “So the first thing we did was reach out to volunteers so we could collect some winter coats, hats, gloves, scarves, for this family.”
After those basic needs are met, Immigrant Rights Action focuses on helping families enroll their children in school, which many clients seek assistance with. “It’s an online process. It can be intimidating and difficult to navigate, especially with the required documentation that’s necessary,” Roux said. “A lot of our families from Ukraine, they’ll have a birth certificate and an immunization record, but it’s in Ukrainian, so they’ve got to put it English first.” While this is the case with every document written in another language, Roux adds that it is “particularly difficult with Ukrainian because the alphabet is not the same.”
Roux and her colleagues also work alongside the Ann Silverman Clinic in Doylestown to help their clients gain access to medical care, since the clinic serves those who are uninsured. Immigrant Rights Action provides assistance in filling out any necessary medical forms and paperwork required to obtain this care. Similar services are also provided for those who need help filling out applications for jobs and housing. “Even if they come in Spanish, they are sometimes intimidating or difficult to understand,” she said.
In addition to short-term needs, Immigrant Rights Action focuses on helping their clients with more long-term solutions as well by inviting them to their free legal clinic, which can give them valuable information about the many legal services they offer. During this clinic, clients can learn about retaining an immigration attorney, get consultations on their immigration cases, and apply for modest financial assistance to help with their legal fees. These clinics are also a great opportunity for people to ask questions about their immigration cases and try to find solutions.
Not everyone will have a path to citizenship, however.
“A lot of the time, unfortunately, the outcome is that they do not have a path to regularizing status, and what we’re able to do is just remind them that we’re still here to support them,” Roux said. “And we give them what we call a ‘Know Your Rights’ training, so that they know that just because they’re here undocumented doesn’t mean they don’t have any human rights.”
Overall, Roux says Immigrant Rights Action’s main goal and mission statement is to “empower our community members to connect them with allies and resources that are available to help them thrive in life.” The work Immigrant Rights Action is doing to help serve the immigrant community in Bucks County not only helps migrant families gain access to basic necessities and navigate America’s complex legal system, but it also helps raise awareness and shed a light on the hardships and difficulties many immigrants face in Pennsylvania and across the U.S.
On the backdrop of International Migrants Day, which aims to recognize the rights, contributions, and struggles of migrants around the world, Immigrant Rights Action’s ethos makes it clear that these issues should be at the forefront of our minds 365 days a year.
According to Roux, the best way to help out the organization and the Bucks County immigrant community is to donate grocery store gift cards or volunteer your time. Oftentimes, the organization sends volunteers to accompany clients to immigration court to provide both transportation and moral support. Other times, however, clients simply need someone to help them run errands. “It’s these little things that make such a big impact and a difference in someone’s life,” she said. “It really empowers more families, and then they, in turn, take leadership roles in their own communities and help out other families.”
In just the last year, Immigrant Rights Action has seen a 89 percent jump in their overall clientele, all of whom they welcome with open arms. “We’re becoming more recognized and we’re not shying away from being here,” Roux continued. “We want others to know we’re here and that we can help.”