From left, Consul of Mexico Mario Cuevas Zamora and Eric Dominguez, president of the Orange County Hispanic Bar Association, sign a Memorandum of Understanding in Santa Ana on Thursday, March 9, 2017. The MOU establishes a collaboration to protect the legal rights of the Mexican community in Orange County. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)
By JESSICA KWONG / STAFF WRITER, OC Register
SANTA ANA – As President Donald Trump rolls out his immigration policies, the Consulate of Mexico in Santa Ana has responded by bolstering its services to Mexicans, the latest step of which is a formal alliance with a large network of Latino attorneys.
Consul of Mexico Mario Cuevas Zamora and Eric Dominguez, president of the Hispanic Bar Association of Orange County, on Thursday signed a memorandum of understanding strengthening the relationship between the institutions and their capacity to provide free or low-cost counseling and legal representation.
“Things are not easy for our community right now,” Cuevas said in Spanish during a press conference announcing the signing. “These are trying times that should not be wished on anyone, but we need to confront it and what better way than to form alliances.”
The consulate and the bar association already had partnered on monthly immigration clinics and other services, but the memorandum will ensure Mexicans “regularly have access to attorneys as opposed to ad hoc,” whether on-site or over the phone, Dominguez said.
In particular, the bar association is looking to provide legal consultation and representation to people who don’t qualify to be assigned to an attorney pro bono, but who also cannot afford to hire one, Dominguez said.
Of the 360,000 Mexicans living in Orange County, about 200,000 are undocumented, according to the Migration Policy Institute, with immigration statuses that limit their access to quality legal services.
Over the past two years, the consulate has provided 1,851 free legal consults and covered the costs of 307 cases, in collaboration with 12 local organizations. The memorandum will amplify programs the consulate has already developed with the Legal Aid Society of Orange County and Catholic Charities of Orange County, among others.
On March 3, the consulate, in conjunction with the 49 other Mexican consulates in the U.S., under order by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto launched drop-in immigration information booths and became “centers for legal defense.” The program encourages Mexicans who qualify for U.S. citizenship to pursue it for their protection. The consulate is at 2100 E. Fourth St.
“These are extraordinary times,” Jazmin Castellanos, consul of protection, said. “We know that with lawyers, it’s best to have them at our side than against us.”
While immigration services are in the highest demand, bar association lawyers also will be available to assist in civil and family cases.
The agreement signed Thursday was months in the making.
“This is just the beginning,” Cuevas said. “We’re ready to sit down and work on a map of how we can achieve our goals.”
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