Immigration Project News

Volunteer Highlight: Melissa Sanders

Meet Melissa Sanders! She has been working 40 hours a week for the past couple months as part of her internship with us in order to complete her paralegal certificate. We asked her some questions about herself to learn more about her. Thanks Melissa!


Where are you from:
Originally from the Peoria Area, but have lived up and down the East Coast following my husband’s military career. I currently reside in East Peoria IL, but will be moving to Boston at the end of summer!
Where do you currently work?
Prior to my volunteer work at IP, I was an IT Analyst at Caterpillar Inc.

Why do you volunteer with the IP?

I am completing the final internship requirement for a post grad certification. I will be attending the University of Mass Boston this coming spring, pursuing my Masters in Business Administration with a concentration in HR Management. I feel that a background in immigration compliance will compliment my masters degree, due to the global nature of the current business climate.


What work or activities are you involved in when you are not volunteering for the Immigration Project?

I am enjoying my summer by focusing solely on my internship and preparing to move. The days I am not at IP, you can find me reading, biking, or relaxing by the pool!


What is the best advice you have ever been given?

The best advice I have been given is:
In order to truly grow and learn, you have to be willing to push the boundaries of your comfort zone and allow yourself to be in a position to be challenged and occasionally fail.

C-U Wine Tasting and Silent Auction Fundraiser

On Thursday April 21st, the Immigration Project hosted its first fundraiser in the Champaign-Urbana area since opening a satellite office in Champaign. Guests enjoyed a wine tasting, silent auction, and raffle at the Urbana Civic Center. More than 50 people were in attendance including local Judge Blockman, attorneys, social service agencies such as ECIRMAC, University of Illinois professors and students, community leaders, and previous clients.

Most of the auction items were donated by local businesses and artists such as Pekara Bakery, DESTIHL, Columbia Street Roastery, Uniquely Eclectic, Joel Bergner, and Laurie Bergner. A majority of the food was also donated by Dos Reales, Red Herring, and Rick’s Bakery. The wine was graciously donated by Martin Perry and poured by Hendrick House.

With live Latin guitar in the background, courtesy of Derik Cordoba, guests mingled with IP staff and Board. Rebekah Niblock told a heartfelt story about one of her clients finally being reunited with their family after years of waiting. By the end of the evening, guests had learned more about the agency’s great work and why they had gathered there that night. The event brought in close to $4,500!

Thank you to everyone that helped make this fundraiser a reality! Since opening an office in Champaign, the IP has been warmly welcomed by the C-U community. So thank you- we appreciate your support!

IP attorney on Immigration TV

Volunteer Highlight: Jordan Debo


Meet Jordan Debo- one of our volunteers that primarily translates our French documents into English and vice versa. We asked him some questions about himself and his time volunteering with us. Thanks Jordan!
DSCN0855Where are you from?

Jordan: From Normal

Where do you currently work?

J: Graduate assistant at ISU

How long have you volunteered with us?

J: 3 months or so

Why do you volunteer with the IP?

J: Do something to help people and be able to use my French

What is your favorite memory volunteering here?

J: Hearing a client who was super excited to finally be able to attend the oath ceremony after the whole application process.

Successful First Round of Downstate Community Navigators/Liaisons Trainings

100MEDIA$IMAG1439Christine Howe going over introductions on Day One

In an effort to build more downstate resources for immigrants, which in turn empowers communities, the Immigration Project held the first downstate Community Liaison and Navigators trainings at the beginning of April. For those who haven’t heard of Community Navigators or Liaisons (“Promotores and Intermediadores” in Spanish), they are people who typically already have frequent contact with immigrant populations within their own jobs or leisure activities.  The first half of the training provides explanation and information about immigration law and resources, which enhances one’s ability to connect immigrants to legal service providers, social service organizations, and government representatives. They learn who can and cannot give legal advice and what constitutes ‘legal advice’, helping to fight against what is called ‘notario fraud’ (a plague of unauthorized persons wrongfully completing immigration application forms or dispensing incorrect or incomplete advice about the legal system).  Those who want to become Navigators stay for additional training in form and document preparation, to be completed only under the supervision of attorneys. Tasks of Navigators and Liaisons range from helping clients get utility or school records, to explaining requirements for some immigration programs, to helping clients complete applications.

IMAG1451Luis Huerta-Silva conducting the Community Navigators/Liaisons training on Day One

With the help of Luis Huerta-Silva from ICIRR (Illinois Coalition forImmigrant and Refugee Rights) in Chicago, the trainings took place in our home office on April 1-2.  Nineteen individuals attended, from McLean County, Champaign, Peoria,LaSalle and Springfield. Some were health partnership personnel (including a surgeon and medical student), others ESL teachers in school systems, and four were our own volunteers!  Fifteen completed Day One Liaison training and 9 of those 15 went on to become certified Navigators at the end of training the next day. After a successful initial Community Navigator and Liaison Training and with enthusiasm running high, preparations are being made to conduct additional trainings in Champaign and Normal this summer, including teacher in-services with the two local school districts in McLean County.  As soon as groundwork is laid, we can expand to Peoria, Springfield and Kankakee, then further downstate.

Download$1782The trainers from left to right: Luis Huerta-Silva, Christine Howe, Charlotte Alvarez

Community Navigators and Liaisons are crucial to increasing the ability of Immigration Project to serve our 86-county area, where we are the lone non-profit legal immigration service provider with immigration attorneys on staff. With their outreach efforts, more immigrants can hear of our services.  With their new knowledge of certain requirements, forms and documentation, cases can be completed more quickly.  Another by-product of expanding resources is that our staff will be able to take on more complicated cases that are more time-consuming and attorney-demanding. Community Navigators and Liaisons guide and support clients at every step of their legal journey allowing our attorneys to focus on filing applications. We have high hopes for this program to increase our current ability to serve more immigrants, and sense even more urgency as we await the Supreme Court decision by June of whether or not President Obama’s 2014 executive actions regarding DAPA and expanded DACA are constitutional.  If they decide ‘yes’ then DACA-expanded should go into effect nearly immediately and DAPA just a few months later.  Of the many thousands of immigrants in downstate Illinois who will be eligible for these two programs, we expect over 16,000 could seek our help.

1783_2The first nine downstate Community Navigators holding their certificates at the end of Day Two

Free Legal Advice Fair

Have an immigration question? We will be at the Free Legal Advice Fair on Saturday, April 30th from 9 am- 12 pm.

4-30 Legal Fair Flyer-page-001

Volunteer Highlight: Nathan Vermillion

In honor of National Volunteer Appreciation month, we are kick-starting our Volunteer Highlights by featuring Nathan Vermillion. We asked him a few questions about himself and his time volunteering with us.
Where are you from?

Nathan: I grew up in a small town called Yates City located half way between Peoria and Galesburg IL.

How long have you volunteered with us?

N: I have been volunteering since 2014, though I can’t remember the exact month I started.

Why do you volunteer with the IP?

N: I was looking for volunteer opportunities and a co-worker introduced me to the Immigration Project. I was looking to branch out and learn new areas of law and felt immigration would be fun and something completely different from my day job. Turns out I was right. That got me in the door. But it’s been the wonderful attorneys and staff at the Immigration Project and knowing I’m helping people create an opportunity to build better lives for themselves, and especially their families, that keeps me excited to come in each week.

Where do you currently work?

N: I currently work for State Farm.

What is your favorite memory volunteering here?

N: My favorite memory happens on a regular basis. On several occasions the first thing Charlotte will say is “You get to learn something new today.”  I always enjoy the work but on those days there’s always a part of me that gets excited to learn something new about our immigration process.

2015 Annual Report

Immigration Project Annual Report 2015

President Speaks to McLean County Diversity Project

Earlier this year, Laurie Bergner, the current President of the IP’s Board of Directors, and former McLean County Sheriff Mike Emery spoke to the McLean County Diversity Project about one controversial issue impacting our nation: immigration. The McLean County Diversity Project is made up of junior high and high school students interested in learning about diversity issues in their own community. The students asked Bergner and Emery a variety of questions regarding the impact of undocumented immigrants on the U.S. economy, the fear of local police created through racial profiling, the Syrian Refugee Crisis, and the most recent I.C.E. raids. For the full story, click here.

Happy Hour in Champaign


On February 11th, the IP hosted a Happy Hour at Cowboy Monkey in Champaign as a way to introduce the agency to the community. A variety of professionals and students attended including participants in the Domestic Violence Clinic at the University of Illinois School of Law, a local judge, attorneys, and individuals associated with other non-profits in town.

1 Rebekah Niblock, the attorney running the Champaign office, and Laurie Bergner, the President of the Board, gave some back history on the organization as well as how the IP will continue to move forward in Champaign. There was a brief Q & A session afterwards where members of other local organizations shared stories and information on recent I.C.E. raids in the area. Thanks again to our gracious host, Cowboy Monkey, and to Beth Robinson for donating the appetizers.