In recent years, Ohio has become the home to thousands of Haitian immigrants, with estimates ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 Haitians settling in Springfield alone. To help meet the many critical needs of Ohio’s newest residents, a coalition of service providers led by the Clark County Haitian Coalition and the Clark County Health Department have stepped up to support the new Ohioans.
Joining the collaborative effort are Foundation grantees Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), Catholic Charities of Cleveland, and Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio, nonprofits that provide legal assistance to the growing Haitian community. The local private bar, led by the Clark County Bar Association and Judge Katrine Lancaster, has also played an important role in mobilizing pro bono attorneys to help.
Haitians arrive in Springfield eager to work and contribute to their new community, but language, legal obstacles, and cultural barriers often stand in the way. To address these challenges, ABLE engages in targeted outreach to the Haitian community, hosting informational sessions with the Springfield District Council of St. Vincent DePaul where attendees can learn about immigration law and identify legal services they may want to pursue. ABLE also hosts clinics throughout the year to help Haitians apply for work permits.
“We look to make the connection with other agencies and leaders in the community who can refer people to us that need help,” said Alejandra Espino, a paralegal for ABLE actively engaged with the Haitian community.
Other efforts include a pro se asylum clinic hosted by Catholic Charities of Cleveland in collaboration with ABLE, Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio, and other partners in Springfield. At this clinic, volunteer attorneys meet with Haitians facing removal proceedings and assist in helping them file for asylum.
“We want the community to know that we’re here to help them in any way we can,” Espino said.
On Law Day, in a speech addressing Clark County Bar Association members, Foundation Supreme Court of Ohio Liaison and Justice Melody Stewart praised the Springfield community for its resourcefulness and commitment to giving back.
“The way the community has come together here, particularly the legal community, to support Haitian immigrants is an example of what our great state and country are all about,” Justice Stewart said, a sentiment that the Haitians who have come to call Springfield home surely feel.
The Ohio Access to Justice Foundation is the largest funder of civil legal services in Ohio. A gift to the Foundation supports Ohio’s legal aids.