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Learning how to navigate a legal or education system full of red tape can seem next to impossible for recent immigrants—particularly those with limited language skills. The Coalition of Asian American Leaders has created a tool to make that a little easier.
Last year, after conducting a community scan of Asian American immigrants and refugee communities in Minnesota, the coalition issued its report: “A Brief about the Experiences of Asian Immigrants in Minnesota.” Then, it created a digital Immigration Resource Map of services available to address the needs of those communities.
An online event Thursday hosted by CAAL to officially launch the map will feature an overview and tutorial on how to use the map, which then will be available on the organization’s website. It includes providers in Minnesota who work directly with refugee and immigrant communities. While mostly geared toward Asian immigrants and refugees, some resources are listed for other communities.
The tool includes maps specifically focused on advocacy, education, and legal services. By using the map, users can find location, list of spoken languages, contact information, and more.
For example, immigration legal services include removal defense, applying for different types of visas, family reunification and family sponsorship applications.
“One of the recurring themes was that people just didn’t know where to go to get help for their immigration needs or their individual concerns,” said Jenny Srey, CAAL lead organizer for safe and welcoming communities. She started a year ago at CAAL and led the team that created the resource map.
Last summer, CAAL partnered with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) to make the resource map digitally accessible.
“A digital map is nice because we can change it, we can add more to it,” Srey said. “We wanted something easy for communities to use and can be adaptable to different resources.”
In November, surveys were sent to service providers across Minnesota to collect information about their services to address issues facing immigrant and refugee communities.
Juthi Dewan, a third-year student at Macalester College on an internship with CAAL, created the map based on survey responses. Dewan said she had personal experience of how important such a map could be. When she was 16 years old, her family immigrated to California from Bangladesh, and she saw her parents struggle to make the transition because they did not speak English well, she added.
They were fortunate to have family who could help them, however, Dewan said “if we didn’t have family, this definitely would have been something that my parents would have wanted to see or could have relied on.”
There are more than 50 nonprofit and private service providers in the resource map, primarily located in the Twin Cities. There will also be an option for providers to fill out a survey to be added to the map.
Srey said that nonprofit legal organizations do not always have the capacity to address specific concerns, and in some cases immigrants and refugees may not meet their eligibility requirements, so having a resource bank provides different options.
“The current immigration system is really full of red tape and bureaucracy, and it’s definitely hard to navigate even [with] English as your first language,” said Julia Gay, CAAL Marketing and Communications Coordinator. “ The more that CAAL and others can do to make the system easier to navigate for people, I think that is key.”