The mission of the Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ) is to promote and protect the human rights of all Alaskans, including immigrants, refugees, victims of crime, including survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, and Native Alaskan communities by providing essential services to these underserved populations through legal representation, language access, training and education programs, and climate justice advocacy .
This six-article series, Human Rights: Legal, Social, and Climate Justice, explores the origins of AIJ 16 years ago, the various programs it offers, and its impact on our state in its unwavering dedication to preservation. and the defense of the rights of all. Alaskans.
The Alaska Institute for Justice’s inaugural program, the Alaska Immigration Justice Project, began in 2005 in response to a pressing need for legal representation for immigrants to the state.
And although AIJ’s mission has expanded over the years to include work on climate change and the Language Interpreter Center, the Immigration Justice Project remains its flagship program; then, and still, AIJ was the only statewide organization dedicated to providing low-cost, free immigration legal assistance and language access services to Alaskans.
For the past 16 years, founding members Mara Kimmel, Robin Bronen and Jason Baumetz have been joined by a talented and diverse staff, supported by a practical board of directors, volunteer lawyers and broad community support.
The Immigration Justice Project addresses a vital and urgent need for legal representation across the state; the majority of clients, around 65 percent, are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
These victims of crime would otherwise be unable to come forward and access essential legal services due to fear of reprisal and possible deportation. The project helps them with holistic legal services, including their immigration status and allowing them to access essential resources, thus creating a safer and more just community for all Alaskans.
Project partners work closely with domestic violence and sexual assault programs statewide who direct the legal program to the Alaska Institute for Justice Legal Program for assistance in navigating a system. very complicated legal.
Jason Baumetz, director of AIJ’s legal program for the past 16 years, is recognized both nationally and in Alaska for his immigration legal expertise. Baumetz provides essential direct legal services and supervision for immigration work with victims of human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault. He is also bilingual in English and Korean.
The work can be demanding and arduous, he says, but it also has its rewards.
âIt’s very stimulating, interesting and yes you make a huge difference in people’s lives and you watch people succeed and go from difficulty to great success,â he says. “It’s really inspiring, what people are going through and where they are at in their lives, and that I can help people get out of abusive relationships.”
Ivette Lugo, the extraordinary multitasking project whose official title is Juneau Rural Outreach Coordinator / Paralegal / Trained Interpreter & Translator, sees many of these clients on the front lines before referring them to lawyers or the many community service partners with which the project works hand in hand.
Too often, Lugo says, the Immigration Justice Project is contacted by people in crisis who need help navigating the legal system and finding community resources. âOften it’s a woman married to an American citizen. She says ‘he is mistreating me, he threatened to call immigration if I divorce, or to take my children and deport me to my home country.’ “
Alaska has one of the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in the country. The rate of forced rape in Alaska is almost three times the national average. Immigrant victims face even higher rates of family violence and sexual assault and face significant barriers in finding help.
âSurprising statistics from the 2015 Alaska Victimization Survey revealed that 48% of women who reside in Alaska have experienced domestic violence, sexual violence, or both,â says Kari Robinson, deputy director of AIJ.
In the first half of 2021, the project âassisted 115 victims of crime with immigration legal services, including a wide range of immigration legal remedies to help victims of crime obtain a temporary or permanent legal status in the United States, âadds Robinson.
And there are also other victims of crime served by the project.
âWe also help people who are victims of human trafficking, often labor or domestic servitude,â Lugo says. âA lot of people from other countries are hired by companies here in Alaska and they don’t get paid, don’t have days off or overtime. In industries like fishing, companies hire people from overseas and don’t keep their promises.
Robinson notes that, also in the first half of 2021 alone, the Immigration Justice project assisted 40 victims of human trafficking whose countries of origin are Cameroon, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador. , The Gambia, Germany, Honduras, India, Jordan, Korea, Mexico, Mongolia, Peru, Philippines, Senegal and Vietnam. The legal program also relies on long-standing support staff, including Carmen Sanchez who, over the past 15 years, has helped clients feel welcome and supported in accessing legal services, as well as Track critical customer service statistics for all AIJ funding sources and identify unmet needs. within the state.
In addition, the project provides legal immigration services to non-victims of crime – such as those applying for lawful permanent resident status, naturalization and citizenship assistance, legal assistance family immigration and deportation / deportation defense – on a sliding scale. These services are offered at a fraction of the cost of a private attorney.
To be clear, the Immigration Justice Project helps immigrants who are legally entitled to be in the United States.
Director of Grants and Operations Indra Arriaga, herself an immigrant who served on the board before joining staff in 2020, explains:
âA misconception is that our clients are immigrants who are here undocumented, illegally or have exceeded their visa. The clients we serve and the cases we take on are rooted in the immigration process, âshe says. âThey have legal status. These people have their place here. They have the right to follow the process.
Supervisory lawyer Anna Taylor came to AIJ seven years ago, first working in AIJ’s office in Juneau, then moving to Anchorage.
Although her day-to-day often involves guiding clients through stories of horrific experiences in their lives, she is content to know that Project help can make a lasting difference.
âThe impact of cases where immigration benefits a survivor of domestic violence, or other violent crime, are the ones that stay with me the longest,â she says. âThese just reinforce to me how resilient our clients are, how they can continue to be kind, compassionate, and intelligent people even though they’ve been treated horribly. “
AIJ also manages a pro bono asylum project. Dan Rodgers has been a full-time volunteer lawyer with AIJ since 2008 and has represented numerous AIJ clients. He is the recipient of the Pro Bono Lifetime Achievement Award and the Robert K. Hickerson Award for Public Service from the Alaska Bar Association as well as numerous other pro bono awards.
The continued success of the Immigration Justice Project is due to the dedication of its talented staff and their deep commitment to upholding the human and legal rights of every individual, regardless of their country of origin, creating a vibrant and inclusive society.
âWe need to bring people out of the shadows, to make a better city and state,â said founding member Mara Kimmel. âWe have to give people the opportunity to do things right, and we can do it when all voices feel safe. “
For more information about the Alaska Institute for Justice’s programs or how you can help support their efforts, visit www.akijp.org.