Our co-founders, Francisco Rodriguez and Cam Coval, met each other in the fall of 2016 at Glenfair Elementary School in East Portland.
At that time, Francisco was working at Glenfair as a behavioral specialist, and Cam began serving as an AmeriCorps member in food pantries at schools throughout East Multnomah County. In addition to working together at Glenfair, Cam and Francisco also began working together to coordinate the food pantry at Reynolds Middle School.
On March 26, 2017, Francisco Rodriguez, was arrested by ICE agents without a warrant, becoming one of the first DACA recipients in Oregon to be detained under the Trump administration. Upon learning about the arrest, Cam worked with community leaders to organize a rally to demand Francisco’s immediate release. Within an hour after the demonstration ended, Francisco was released from the detention center. The ACLU credited his release to “the massive public response” that we helped coordinate.
After Francisco returned to schools in East Multnomah County, he and Cam were approached by other immigrants from Latin America whose loved ones had been detained by ICE, and who asked for help securing their release. These people did not have the same ties to the Portland nonprofit community that Francisco had through his work, so they had not received the same outpouring of support and attention. Francisco and Cam sought in vain to find attorneys willing to take on these cases at affordable rates.
It became clear to Francisco and Cam, and it was also later identified in a 2017 Oregon Ready survey of immigration service providers and advocates, that low-cost, language-specific legal representation for people facing detention and deportation was the most glaring gap in services for immigrants in Oregon. Indeed, Francisco and Cam encountered several challenges seeking legal services on behalf of the families that reached out to them. As court hearings and filing deadlines came and went, the inability to find quality, low-cost legal representation jeopardized their loved ones’ ability to mount a strong removal defense. Francisco and Cam realized that the lack of affordable representation for immigrants in Oregon heightened the chance that these families and others would be separated by detention and deportation.
However, Francisco’s experience proved that when people mobilize around a common goal, they can make an impact in a seemingly insurmountable situation. That experience motivated Francisco and Cam to start Pueblo Unido PDX as a community group dedicated to helping people facing deportation navigate legal services in a streamlined manner, and providing financial assistance to help families hire experienced attorneys at a reasonable cost. In this way, Pueblo Unido formed to give people the best possible chance to win their cases against deportation and achieve the legal right to remain in their communities with their families.
The first two families that Francisco and Cam supported through Pueblo Unido won their cases against removal and were released from detention in December 2017. These early successes in reuniting local families reinforced the impact of the work and emboldened Francisco and Cam to establish Pueblo Unido as a nonprofit in February 2018.
Pueblo Unido connects people who have a vulnerable immigration status to legal, social, and Indigenous language interpretation services. Our programs are focused on addressing long-standing inequities and promoting social inclusion by helping people with a vulnerable immigration status overcome financial, technological, literacy, linguistic, and bureaucratic barriers to essential human rights and services. This work protects due process rights, promotes household stability, and secures language justice so that our communities can be safe, feel supported, and thrive.
Since our formation in April 2017, we have served more than 15,000 individuals in Oregon, Washington, California, Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Minnesota, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, New York, Virginia, Washington DC, Mexico, and Guatemala. Through our Legal Navigation program, we have facilitated over 500 free legal consultations and connected over 1200 individuals to legal representation for deportation defense or affirmative immigration applications. Through our Social Service Navigation program, we have provided financial assistance towards more than 130 rent and utility payments, and submitted more than 14,000 applications to pandemic-assistance programs including the Oregon Worker Relief Fund, Quarantine Fund, and Climate Change Fund. Through our partnership with the Collective of Indigenous Interpreters of Oregon (CIIO), we have provided Indigenous language interpretation during more than 300 appointments in legal, health, and community settings.
Pueblo Unido is focused on providing navigation to legal services because legal representation is the single most predictive factor in whether a person will avoid deportation, secure more stable status, and achieve the right to remain in their community. Those who are represented by an attorney in deportation proceedings are 15 times more likely to present a defense and 5 times more likely to win their case in immigration court compared to those without legal representation.
Because immigration is civil—not criminal—court, however, the government does not provide legal counsel to those who cannot afford to hire their own. It typically costs between $10,000-$12,000 to hire a legal representative for a deportation defense case. As a result, most people facing removal are forced to represent themselves, and are ultimately less likely to prevail against deportation. Pueblo Unido organized in April 2017 in response to this injustice to keep families and our communities together.