When the pandemic hit, Oregon experienced mass unemployment. Many who lose their jobs are eligible for unemployment benefits, a wage replacement program that’s meant to provide emergency financial relief to people who are recently unemployed. People rely on this money for food, rent, and medicine. Fast forward to today: over 600,000 Oregonians have filed for unemployment benefits and the poverty population continues to grow. The need for legal aid is stronger than ever, and the need isn’t going away any time soon.
One voice alone can’t paint the picture of the tireless work legal aid attorneys are doing to ensure that all Oregonians have their most critical legal needs met. Today we highlight the work of Laura Lindley-Gutierrez, a supervising attorney in the Immigration Law Project at the Center for NonProfit Legal Services in Medford, Oregon.
The Campaign for Equal Justice is grateful to Laura for taking the time to share some of her story with us.
I am a child of lawyers. My mom would bring her work home every night and read through cases with us and pretty immediately I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer too. I saw the inequality and what was happening in the justice system and it really bothered me. I knew that I wanted to do something that would be beneficial; that would bring more kindness to the world.
So I became a legal aid attorney.
After the pandemic and then the wildfires hit, the world began changing pretty dramatically. The legal aid offices here became a safe place for many of our clients because they know us through our work. Our immigrant clients reached out almost immediately because these folks had lost their jobs, were struggling, and didn’t know where to turn. They didn’t know what services they’d be eligible for, or if any of the services would affect their immigration status. Oftentimes our clients do not feel safe reaching out to social services agencies. It can be scary, but we have built trust.
Pretty immediately our work pivoted. We still were doing our legal work, but we also began helping our clients and their family members fill out applications and doing all we could to keep food on their tables and warm shelter over their heads.
One of the many reasons that I love my job is that I wake up every day feeling like I make a difference because of the work we do.
That’s the reason I do it.
Donating to CEJ means that more people across the state will have access to justice. It means I can serve more people who need a helping hand.