Santa Clara County group offers free legal services for undocumented residents
Paola Mondragon, manager of the Rapid Response Network of Santa Clara County. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

East San Jose’s Mexican Heritage Plaza has played host to cultural performances, rallies and a mass vaccination site. This week, a group of nonprofits will bring together its resources for another critical use in the Latino community: free legal and rental assistance for immigrants.

The Rapid Response Network of Santa Clara County, a group of social justice nonprofits, announced Thursday it will hold a free event to provide legal and rental assistance for undocumented immigrants.

The free clinic will take place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 1700 Alum Rock Avenue in San Jose.

“We’re providing a moral demand,” said Father John Pedigo, director of advocacy and community engagement at Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. “As we demand from these essential workers that they pay their rent, they’ve been working hard in all these businesses and industries that keep Silicon Valley alive. Our rent is due to them. We owe them this money.”

Undocumented members of the community who show up will be offered one-on-one time with immigration attorneys. For those looking for rental assistance, network members will guide them through the rental assistance application process.

“It’s ridiculous and, honestly, a moral failure of our administrations to call our undocmented communities essential workers yet deny them legal status,” said Paola Mondragon, a manager with the Rapid Response Network. “We can’t deny the inequities that continue to ravage and plague our communities day by day.”

Mondragon told San José Spotlight the organization is looking to hold more clinics in the future.

According to a May San José Spotlight report, there are approximately 180,000 undocumented immigrants in Santa Clara County.

Father Jon Pedigo, director of advocacy and community engagement at Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, speaks at a Rapid Response Network news conference. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

The rapid response team is part of a broader movement across the state and country to help shield undocumented immigrants from deportation raids. Through the network, organizations provide programs like legal assistance and hotlines to report deportations.

Santa Clara County’s rapid response team provides its own hotline to report when federal immigration agents might be in the area. The hotline is meant to help prevent mass deportations of undocumented immigrants who may be separated from their families and livelihoods.

“Immigrants have been excluded from financial relief from coronavirus at the federal level,” said Luis Angel Reyes Savalza, lead immigration attorney for the network. “The Rapid Response Network is not letting its guard down.”

Though undocumented residents often do not qualify for federal COVID relief, there is some help locally.

The city, county and state launched efforts during the pandemic to aid undocumented immigrants. San Jose filed suit against then-President Donald Trump in July 2020 over Trump’s push to exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted in the 2020 U.S. Census. The county joined in the effort in November of that year.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in the spring a $125 million, first-in-the-nation disaster relief assistance fund specifically for undocumented immigrants who had their health and income upended by COVID-19.

The network hopes it can help people like Antonia Sandoval, a member of the organizing committee of nonprofit Amigos de Guadalupe who contracted COVID in December. After she recovered from the virus, she could only find part-time work.

“After receiving financial assistance for rent, I felt so much relief and hope,” Sandoval said in Spanish through an interpreter. “I learned that it’s OK for help. I urge the immigrant community to ask for help during these difficult times.”

The Rapid Response Network of Santa Clara County is a coalition of different nonprofits, including the Amigos de Guadalupe Center for Justice and Empowerment, Sacred Heart of Silicon Valley, Pangea Legal Services, Human Agenda and Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County.

To learn more about the Rapid Response Network of Santa Clara County, click here.

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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