Immigration Legal Services at Journey's End | News
BUFFALO, N.Y.-- This country was built on hard work from the immigrants who moved here to find the American dream. Today, refugees from all over the world are searching for just that right. And there is a growing community of them right here in the Queen City.
Abrar Haji is one of them. He works as a cashier at Mandella Market on Buffalo's West Side. His dream is to make a new life and a home in America.
"I like my country but the government is very, very bad," said Haji.
Abrar is a refugee from Eritrea-- a small east African country with a poor human rights record and a reputation for persecuting its own people. Abrar escaped to nearby Ethiopia where he lived in a refugee camp for 5 years. Then in 2010, he was forced to resettle in the United States.
"I am so amazed by the stories of survival that my client tell me, what they went through," said Jennifer Rizzo.
Rizzo is an Immigration Attorney at Journey's End Refugee Center located in Buffalo's Tri-Main Building. The agency is one of four in the Queen City that helps over a thousand refugees each year start a new life. That help can include English language classes, job training or citizenship.
"A big part of what I do is family sponsorship-- reunifying family members. Because refugees often, do to circumstances, end up separated because of something awful like war or genocide or something really bad that happened in their country," she added.
That struggle is what separates refugees from immigrants. Refugees are forced to leave their country-- usually penniless-- with no means to search for their loved ones, let alone bring them here. That's where Jennifer and Journey's End comes in. Last year she helped 400 clients with legal matters but had to turn 800 others away.
"My agency recognized that with so many refugees coming to Buffalo it was important to have a lawyer that could serve those needs-- the vulnerable clients," she said.
Most of her clients, like Abrar, are living below the poverty level-- despite working full time and oftentimes also going to school. Jennifer is helping him reunite with his wife Samira whom he had to leave in Ethiopia and hopefully one day bring her here. It's a long and challenging process-- dealing with foreign governments and lots of red tape. But Jennifer has a special motivation.
"My father's side, they're Italian immigrants," Rizzo said.
On her office wall, above her desk, she makes a point of showing her clients her father's passport and immigration documents.
"My father was born in Sicily, and he came over here on the boat when he was five years old," she said.
"I cannot imagine what it was like for them. I know that his parents had a really hard time. His parents-- mother had to learn English and take the citizen test to become a US citizen and they struggled," she added.
So now it's a first generation of Buffalo immigrants helping the next-- applying the work ethic that still makes this country great.
"They're very hard working. They know this is a second chance-- they want to succeed. I feel very connected to people who have to struggle and make it in this country," she added.
The Immigration Legal Services Program at Journey's End is overwhelmed and they're looking for lawyers willing to offer help pro bono, as well as grants and private funding sources.