ALAMOSA – In 2002, a small but mighty non-profit organization came into being. Known as the SLV Immigration Resource Center, the assistance provided by a tiny three-person staff over the years has changed the lives of thousands of people who, in many cases, had nowhere else to turn for help.
SLVIRC was always there, and their contribution — not just to individual lives but to a community at large — is worthy of celebration as they enter their twentieth year.
The origin of SLVIRC dates back to 1987. Operating as part of a collection of churches called Christian Community Services, the program was created to aid low-income immigrants with applications for asylum, amnesty (which was being granted at the time) and other issues involved in obtaining legal status. It was also during this time that the Guatemalan community, forced to flee and seek refuge from civil war, took root and began to grow in the San Luis Valley.
“There were no immigration attorneys in the valley back then,” said Flora Archuleta, executive director of the SLVIRC. “There still aren’t.”
A group of attorneys from Denver started coming down to assist with immigration issues, a practice that continued for the next fifteen years.
Then, in 2002, the decision was made to break away and SLVIRC was born as an independent non-profit solely devoted to immigrants.
“It was time,” Archuleta said.
SLVIRC’s team is small but might
It would be easy to tell the story of SLVIRC in numbers, which are impressive.
The Immigration Resource Center has operated for the past two decades with no more than three full time staff (including Archuleta) and one, sometimes two part time employees.
Angelica Raya Trejo assists with legal immigration issues and is on her way to being accredited in that field. Maricela Lucas, who speaks three languages — English, Spanish and Q’anjob‘al — worked for Department of Human Services, administers the Crime Victim Housing Program where she helps victims find housing. Archuleta keeps the ship afloat by writing grants, supervising programs, developing new ones and taking home whatever work wasn’t finished for the day. The three women share a passionate commitment to their mission, ultimately providing a “safe place” where about 2,000 immigrants are given assistance in a myriad of areas.
When asked how such a small group can pull off such an enormous task, Archuleta simply says, “we work well together.”
SLVIRC strives to help immigrants
Their mission is clear and simple: to connect and empower immigrants with resources to achieve legal documentation, fulfill their economic needs and integrate into the community. They do not discriminate based on legal status and work with individuals as individuals who have varying legal status and circumstances.
The area they serve, which is one of Colorado’s poorest regions, is home to more than 45,000 residents including 10,000 migrant and seasonal workers. Overall, the population is almost 50% Hispanic, with more than 400 Q'anjob'al Mayans (Guatemalans) living in the San Luis Valley.
Geographically, their service area is about the same size as the state of Connecticut. But it’s likely that the highly competent staff and the safe and inclusive environment they offer is what brings immigrants to their offices from the San Luis Valley and beyond, including northern New Mexico and other surrounding regions.
Archuleta explains their appeal to such a broad geographic area with what can only be described as an understatement.
“Immigration attorneys are very expensive,” she said.
Accredited for more than 20 years as an Immigration Service Provider by the Office of Legal Access Programs (OLAP), the SLVIRC Immigration Legal Assistance Services Program aids — for a nominal fee — in legal advice for U.S. citizens, immigrants and people without documentation in a variety of matters.
Staff also help people with navigating a highly complex immigration system where even the simplest mistake can either delay or derail getting legal status.
Por Ti Misma-Assisting Battered Immigrants, another SLVIRC program, has been a lifeline for immigrants experiencing domestic violence, especially those most vulnerable who are forced to rely on an abusive spouse for citizenship. Not only does SLVIRC help victims in becoming independent, thanks to provisions in the Violence Against Women Act, staff have assisted victims in obtaining legal status on their own.
“Our Education Outreach Program also offers English as a Second Language classes and after school tutoring at Tierra Nueva where we help children of migrant farm working families with their homework,” Archuleta said.
For the past two years, IRC has also awarded the $2,000 Zoila Gomez “Si Se Puede” scholarship to four SLV students each year.
“It’s a lot to do. And those are just the programs,” she said.
SLVIRC also does a lot of interpretation and translation services and assists immigrants with gathering their documents and making appointments with the Department of Motor Vehicle to get and renew their drivers’ licenses.
It works with the Mexican consulate on renewing passports and gathering documents that allow for dual citizenship and voting in elections held in Mexico. And for those experiencing economic hardship, they distribute 50 to 60 boxes of food per month.
They also work with First Southwest Bank who, via their Forteleza Fund, are offering Quickbooks classes for immigrant entrepreneurs and small business owners to use in their accounting practices.
SLVIRC has made a difference in the lives of those it has helped
The scope of SLVIRC’s services touches almost every aspect of life, but the true story of SLVIRC is in the difference they have made in people’s lives.
Archuleta recalls just a few of the stories, including one of their first clients. Sandra was living in Center and was a victim of domestic violence.
“She had no documentation, no personal belongings,” Archuleta said. “She had nothing.”
SLVIRC worked with Tu Casa to provide Sandra with what she needed to begin a new life, and, thanks to VAWA, she became a citizen and, years later, is living a rich and fulfilling life.
Archuleta also recalls another story about a young man who had Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. He graduated from Alamosa School District, went to college and then obtained his Ph.D.
“He is so successful,” Archuleta said.
Those are just two of the countless stories that can be told.
Although the women have had to occasionally deal with people coming to the center or leaving messages on the phone with condemning statements about immigrants, they feel the community has been generally supportive.
That support is vital to this highly effective, frontline, boots on the ground non-profit that has assisted and supported in the true transformation of lives and realization of dreams among people whose presence enriches the economy and cultural landscape of the San Luis Valley.
As stories posted on their website demonstrate, SLVIRC has spent 20 years building a lasting legacy of hope and realized potential. With continued community support, there is a strong likelihood that legacy will continue well into the future.
More information about the SLV Immigration Resource Center can be found on their website at slvirc.org.