As a result of a bill passed in September last year, the California Department of Social Services had $3 million (see LA Times article) to provide grants to non-profit organizations to provide civil legal aid to unaccompanied minors from Central America. In December, PLC received notice that it was one of 17 organizations to receive funding. With the grant, PLC will increase its capacity to provide immigration services to these children.

“As a child of immigrants, I know firsthand the struggles of immigration in the United States,” said Joyce Noche, who is the lead attorney for PLC’s Immigration Unit. “It is privilege to assist clients and their families through the immigration system, and it’s especially rewarding when we can help make their lives better by assisting them in legalizing their status.”

The Unaccompanied Undocumented Minors Legal Services Funding (UUM) is awarded to non-profit legal services organizations to provide legal services in asylum, T-visa, U-visa, and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Orange County, where PLC will focus its efforts, is the third largest county to receive an influx of unaccompanied minors last year. In September 2014, KPCC reported that more than 4,000 children had been reunited with their families in California, and more than 60,000 had been detained across the country so far last year.

The majority of the children are coming from Central America, where they face gang violence, family violence, and extreme poverty. The hope of reuniting with family members and escaping ever-worsening conditions got them to the United States, then to Orange County.

The journey for many immigrants can be very difficult. “I recently assisted a family that has been in the immigration system for over 20 years,” said Joyce. “We worked closely with their pro bono attorney and were finally successful in obtaining lawful residence for them, ending a painful and stressful chapter in their lives. The day they received their approval was one of the best days I have ever had as a lawyer.”

Prior to joining PLC in 2013, Joyce served as the supervising attorney for the Immigration and Citizenship Project at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. She began her legal career as an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Legal Aid Society of New York, where she founded an immigration legal services project serving immigrant survivors of domestic violence. She later became a policy attorney with Legal Momentum in Washington, DC and also served as a supervisory asylum officer at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under the Refugee and Asylum International Operations Directorate.

Joyce added, “PLC staff and volunteers are incredibly dedicated and committed to working with low-income individuals and families. I am very lucky to be able to work alongside these individuals.” PLC’s Immigration Unit also includes attorneys Munmeeth Soni, Ira Liston, and Yesenia Sandoval.