Foundation awards grant to Catholic Charities for legal aid to poor

Marilyn Tennissen Sep. 3, 2008, 10:15am

AUSTIN – The Texas Access to Justice Foundation has announced that its 2008-2009 allotment of grants, totaling more than $24 million, will be distributed to 40 nonprofit organizations throughout Texas.

The grants will provide civil legal aid to the poor. Among the allotments is a $47,991 grant to Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas.

One of the missions of Catholic Charities is to provide services to clients seeking legal immigration status. It is the only non-profit in Southeast Texas that is recognized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (formerly knows as Immigration and Naturalization Service or INS) to provide such legal service. The charity's immigration services director is accredited to represent clients in immigration matters before the USCIS.

According to a Sept. 3 press release, TAJF was created by the Supreme Court of Texas and is the largest Texas funder for legal services to the poor. The board of directors is appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas and the State Bar of Texas; TAJF has awarded nearly $207 million in 24 years of existence.

TAJF collects and administers several funds including Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts, Basic Civil Legal Services such as filing fees, fees assessed to out-of-state attorneys practicing in Texas, crime victims' funds and private donations.

Each year, TAJF grantees help more than 100,000 low-income individuals with their civil legal needs, the organization says. The grants enable public interest lawyers give free legal advice and representation to low-income Texans with civil legal problems, such as landlord-tenant issues, family law matters, employment law, access to earned benefits and consumer issues.

"Many times, access to a lawyer can be a lifesaver to low-income families," Betty Balli Torres, executive director of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, said in the press release. "As the number of poor Texans continues to increase, it is imperative that we provide them the civil legal representation they need and deserve."

Through grants from TAJF, the Texas Bar Foundation, Bishops' Faith Appeal and other donations, Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas is able to provide immigration consultations, family visa petitions, adjustment of status, consular visa processing, citizenship, derivative and acquired citizenship, waivers for unlawful presence, affidavits of support, renewal of expiring resident alien cards, VAWA self-petitions, "V" visa and "V" classification and registry.

Services of Catholic Charities are available in most counties comprising the territory of the Diocese of Beaumont: Jefferson, Orange, Hardin, Chambers, Jasper, Liberty, Newton, Polk, and Tyler. Catholic Charities provides services to individuals and families regardless of their religious beliefs.

In addition to the grants to non-profits, TAJF will also distribute student loan grants totaling $350,000 to 80 public interest lawyers participating in the Law Student Loan Re-Payment Assistance Program.

According to TAJF, up to $400 per month per lawyer will help to offset cumbersome law school debt. This is almost double the number of 2007-2008 beneficiaries, due to additional funding for the program from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.

The TAJF says these attorneys carry an average student loan debt of $79,374, with average monthly loan payments of $613, while their average yearly salary is less than $43,500. Public interest staff attorneys from 21 Texas Public Interest organizations are currently receiving assistance.

For more information about the Foundation and the work it supports can be found by visiting

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