Walter Toliver, Executive Vice President and Legal Counsel at Esperanza, gave a welcome with the following words: “All in one place, we offer the immigrant community all the tools they need for success and for a better quality of life. We know that immigration legal services are a necessity in our neighborhood.”

On May 19th, the Esperanza Immigration Legal Services (EILS) organization hosted an event called Celebrating Hope for Immigrants: «Stories of Hope,” to share immigrant stories and recognize the work of supporters.  The two awardees on the program included retired Immigration Judge, The Honorable Charles M. Honeyman, and attorney Fernando Chang-Muy.  The event was a fundraiser, with a primary purpose of raising support to continue offering services to the community and to expand services to more clients.

Around two thousand people from 68 countries have benefited from the services of EILS since its founding in 2009.  Seventy-five percent of those people are Hispanic – entrepreneurs, teachers, students, and other professionals who arrived in the United States with aspirations for a better life, and a story of hope to share.    

Walter Toliver, Executive Vice President, and Legal Counsel at Esperanza, gave a welcome with the following words:  “All in one place, we offer the immigrant community all the tools they need for success and for a better quality of life. We know that immigration legal services are a necessity in our neighborhood.”  Accessing high-quality services in low-income neighborhoods is challenging, and even more so for immigrants.

Walter Perez with the two awardees on the program included retired Immigration Judge, The Honorable Charles M. Honeyman, and attorney Fernando Chang-Muy.

Anu Thomas, the Executive Director of EILS, spoke about her passion for immigrants and immigration issues.  She developed this passion during her time at undergraduate and law school, and through her work representing people in immigration detention and people seeking asylum.  “Immigrants impact all of our lives,” she said. “They are our family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.  For me, it is a privilege to work with immigrants on a daily basis.”  

Walter Pérez y Charles Honeyman.

EILS primarily focuses on cases of citizenship, deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) green card renewals and family petitions, and forms of humanitarian immigration relief.  During the pandemic, the legal representation shifted to an online model, allowing to deliver services more efficiently, leading to a 30% increase of applications filed based on consults conducted over the last fiscal year. This increase has motivated plans for an expansion of services across Philadelphia and into surrounding cities as well.   

EILS has had the support of more than 100 multilingual and multicultural volunteers over the years, from various law firms, students from undergraduate and law schools, and individuals with translations and interpretation skills.  Anu affirms, “One of the priorities for EILS in the coming years is to offer services that eliminate the barriers of language, especially for new immigrants to the United States and for older people. We are committed to providing the highest quality of services and care to our immigrant community members.”

Priscilla Bell Lamberty, a native-born in North Philadelphia and with a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from Moor College of Art and Design, painted a work of art during the event and donated it to EILS.

“Stories of Hope” initiative was born from the experiences of immigrants, and “Every conversation has connected us around a shared experience,” Anu said. “We connect around the common life experience of work, relationships, children, community… We are all reflected in each other.  If we can see our own reflections in the people we are serving, we will approach the work with even greater energy and passion.  I know this is true for me and my team.”

Anu Thomas, the Executive Director of EILS, spoke about her passion for immigrants and immigration issues.

Some of the “Stories of Hope” highlighted at the event included:

Immigrants Orlando and Humberto spoke about the difficulty in finding a provider of legal services that could respond to their needs.  After a couple of months of working with EILS, they were able to gain residency status for Humberto, empowering them to pursue their dreams of working and building their family.

Through a video, the story of Bienvenido and Katrina was shared.  He is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, who came to the United States fleeing from domestic violence.  She was a U.S. citizen who formed a new family with Bienvenido. EILS helped the couple navigate the immigration process after they were married, helping Bienvenido gain residency status.

During the event, immigrant stories were also celebrated through art.  Daniel DeJesus, a cellist, violinist, and composer, presented a work composed especially for the EILS event – a powerful work about struggle, overcoming, persistence and hope, to honor the immigrants’ stories.

Priscilla Bell Lamberty, a native-born in North Philadelphia and with a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from Moor College of Art and Design, painted a work of art during the event and donated it to EILS.  She drew inspiration from her family, environment, and culture to create her art. 

The awards and recognitions presented during the event also honored people who have served the immigrant community.  Well-known attorney Fernando Chang-Muy was presented with the EILS Champion Award, for his critical role in providing support, advising, and capacity building to the EILS board of directors.  Fernando expressed his gratitude to the Reverend Luis Cortés, Esperanza’s and EILS’s founder, and he said: “This award goes to the clients – it is EILS’s clients who deserve recognition, because if not for them, Philadelphia and the United States would not be where we are today.”

Ultimately, the event was a success, raising almost $60,000 for the work of EILS.  Esperanza thanks all the many supporters and attendees, immigrant community members, the EILS staff and board of directors, and Esperanza’s leadership and team for making the event – and the work – an enormous success.

Retired immigration judge, The Honorable Charles M. Honeyman, received the distinction of the EILS Civic Impact Award.  With over 20 years of experience, Hon. Honeyman has made a difference in the lives of many families, and he remains committed to the cause of immigration as an adjunct professor at Villanova University and an attorney at the law firm Palladino, Isbell & Casazza, LLC.  Upon receiving his award, Hon. Honeyman gave a remembrance for his brother Steve Honeyman, who was a well-known activist for many years in Philadelphia, known especially for his community service in North Philadelphia.  With great emotion, he shared some personal anecdotes about his own trajectory: “My clients inspire me to become the best lawyer I could be. I learned from the best, became a mentor as well, taught in law schools, presented at conferences, and successfully litigated many immigration cases… But the most important part of my experience was to become involved with immigrant families and communities.  My words to all of us are to remain strong and fearless, and to forge ahead with our work.”

Ultimately, the event was a success, raising almost $60,000 for the work of EILS.  Esperanza thanks all the many supporters and attendees, immigrant community members, the EILS staff and board of directors, and Esperanza’s leadership and team for making the event – and the work – an enormous success.

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