Lawyers expect many undocumented immigrants in Charlotte to seek help

Charlotte immigration lawyers and advocates said they expect an onslaught of local undocumented immigrants to line up for help being announced by President Barack Obama on Thursday night to make them eligible for temporary protected status and free them from living under the fear of deportation.

“I have a feeling our phone lines are going to blow up,” said Mark Bowers, staff attorney for the Immigrant Justice Program of Legal Services of Southern Piedmont.

Lawyer Tin Thanh Nguyen said his Central Law Group on Central Avenue is expanding weekday hours and opening Saturdays to handle the expected rush.

“We’re contemplating hiring more (Spanish-speaking) staff to help the attorneys who don’t speak Spanish,” he said.

“This is huge,” Nguyen said several hours before the president’s speech. “It doesn’t cover everybody, but there will be a huge swath of people (no longer subject) to deportation. … I’m already receiving inquiries from people making appointments with me for next week to see if they’re eligible.”

Obama’s announcement will bring more hardworking undocumented immigrants “who are living in the shadows, out of the shadows,” predicted Zhenia Martinez, a Charlotte businesswoman and a leader of Action NC, which addresses immigration and other issues.

Bowers estimates that about 20,000 immigrants in the Charlotte area will be eligible to remain in the U.S. under the president’s plan.

“Charlotte’s lucky,” he said. “We have an active immigration bar. We have the infrastructure to deal with” the number of people expected to apply for temporary protected status. “We have plenty of private and nonprofit attorneys.”

Lawyers from nonprofit legal services in the state will hold a conference call in a couple of weeks to establish a protocol for helping those seeking temporary protected status, Bowers said.

“Our biggest concern is to warn people about scammers” who will inevitably try to take people’s money under the guise of helping them obtain the status, Bowers said.

Even with the president’s announcement, however, more work will be needed to protect undocumented immigrants, advocates said.

“We know that not everyone will qualify,” said Oliver Merino of Dream Organizing Network. “This is why we must keep fighting in order to keep families together.”