Attorneys offer immigrants tips on establishing the right to stay

Catholic Diocese periodically bringing lawyers to Juneau

Posted: Monday, December 11, 2000

A 28-year-old woman wants to do more to help her sick child in the Lower 48 but won't contact government agencies for fear of deportation because she lacks the appropriate immigration documents.

The woman, who has been in the United States since she was 5, was one of 27 people in Juneau who met in the conference room at Smith Hall last month to discuss immigration and naturalization issues with two Anchorage attorneys.

Robin Bronen and Michael Stahl, who hope to visit Juneau every month or so, are back in town today and Tuesday to meet anyone who needs advice about immigration issues. The Catholic Diocese of Juneau pays for their visits to Southeast Alaska.

"Some people automatically assume anyone who needs an attorney is illegal and we are somehow subverting law," said Pete Hokey, diocese director of social justice. "We are not trying to fool the Immigration and Naturalization Services, we're trying to help people who have a right to be here but don't have the documentation.

"We are here for anyone, not just those in the Catholic community."

The two attorneys work for Catholic Social Services for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, but are funded by various organizations ranging from United Way to the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

They say many immigrants

escape poverty and persecution in their country of origin only to end up in abusive relationships in the United States.

"Their spouses threaten to have them deported if they report the abuse," Bronen said. "The victims don't realize they have a legal way to stay in the country. These cases are a priority for us."

Stahl, who recently moved from Chicago, was surprised to find out that Alaska is such a melting pot. He's seen clients from Iran to Vietnam. One of his favorites is a Tongan lobster diver now living in Point Barrow.

"Many immigrants come to Alaska for the same reason people come from the Lower 48," Stahl said. "There are good job opportunities and it's a beautiful, quiet, safe place to raise children."

During her visits to Juneau, Petersburg and Sitka in October and November, Bronen met immigrants from Mexico, Tonga, the Philippines, Honduras, El Salvador, Japan, Vietnam, Canada, Great Britain, Russia and Iran.

She called their stories "amazing," "compelling" and sometimes "desperate."

"Most of our clients work real hard and have two jobs," she said.

Bronen said her office has a good working relationship with INS district director Bob Eddy. Eddy was out of his Anchorage office this week and could not be reached for comment.

Hokey said people can show up at Smith Hall today or Tuesday, but he prefers they call him at 586-2227, ext. 29, for an appointment.

"We will try as much as we can to see everyone during this visit," Hokey said. "If we can't, we'll schedule it for next month."

Mike Sica can be reached at

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