YWCA Northwestern Illinois received an Access to Justice (A2J) grant through The Resurrection Project and the Westside Justice Center. A2J is a $10 million Illinois program that directs funds to vulnerable individuals who face incarceration or deportation. Chief Administrative Officer Luz Ramirez said the grant money goes to programs that will help people who don't have the funding to find legal counsel on their own.
She said people without legal counsel often don't know who to trust or where to turn and they "just do what they can and it's not sufficient." She continued, "Many of them end up being incarcerated or deported when they could have adjusted their status or paid off a debt." The programs will teach people how to become self sufficient and avoid unnecessary incarceration or deportation.
Ramirez emphasized that the services are confidential. "If they are not of legal status, that information would never be shared with anyone. We are there to provide that barrier, that buffer so that they don't feel that somebody can come after their information. Everything is confidential. Nothing that we put out there is going to notify ICE or USCIS." ICE stands for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. USCIS stands for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In a similar vein, she encourages everyone, regardless of their status, to fill out the 2020 census because the information people provide is confidential. Each person counted is tantamount to thousands of dollars that go to funds that help protect vulnerable individuals and families. Ramirez regularly meets with local leaders including the Sheriff, the Chief of Police, and the State's Attorney. She says their goal is to help people, not unnecessarily incarcerate or deport them.
The mission of the YWCA is to eliminate racism and empower women. To learn more about their programs, Ramirez encourages individuals to reach them by phone at 815-968-9681, their website or in person at 4990 E. State St. in Rockford.
Furthermore, individuals interested in volunteering as "community navigators" may contact them in any of the aforementioned ways. She said, "A good navigator is somebody who is not shy and is passionate about their community and passionate about helping people." Ramirez said they are looking for navigators to go into Boone, Stephenson and Ogle counties and help the people understand how to access the programs. Navigators will also encourage people to fill out the decennial census and the YWCA will provide training for the volunteers.