Greater Waco Legal Services an excellent community resource

“You really need a lawyer.”

People rarely like hearing those words.

They often punctuate our lives when something unforeseen has happened, we’ve hit a crisis or we are thinking about our own demise. We are daunted by dollar signs. We don’t know where to turn, who to trust or what can be done, if anything.

Fortunately, our city has a place to turn for everyone, regardless of financial status, who might see themselves in the above description. Greater Waco Legal Services offers compassionate, affordable legal services so all in our community can have equal access to justice.

Clients pay fees for quality legal representation on a sliding scale according to income. Bilingual counsel is available as well. It’s been my joy to serve as a volunteer, translator and now as the president of the GWLS board.

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Over and over, I’ve watched as we have helped people who earnestly desire to “follow the rules” but are overwhelmed trying to navigate a complicated bureaucracy.

I remember one young friend who was brought to this country as a child. We helped her get her paperwork in order and apply for protected status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals rules. A donor gave toward a scholarship to assist with the government’s $495 fee. I remember when her DACA was approved — she got her driver’s license and a good paying job in one afternoon.

Another service we offer is a monthly free legal advice clinic, usually on the first Monday evening of each month at one of the Transformation Waco school campuses. During these clinics, anyone from our community can come in and receive a half-hour consult with an attorney. At a recent clinic, a young mom arrived juggling a baby and a thick manila envelope — and a very busy 4-year-old girl. She and I did some drawing and we looked at books. I read to her at a nearby table as her mom met with one of our attorneys. After that, I spent time listening to the story of a young woman of about 20 who had been trafficked. She had come to the clinic with an older woman who seemed to be a mentor. One of our attorneys was able to help her with her legal issue, and they left with some hope.

Tax-deductible generosity makes these services available. I give monthly, in part because I’m compelled by my faith. Giving to GWLS is a tangible way to “seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7). In this age where the division in our nation has tragically impacted the church, GWLS is an organization that Christians of all persuasions can support.

People of all faiths are welcomed, served and cared for by GWLS. Scripture repeatedly calls for those with power to use it to defend the rights of the oppressed and work for the flourishing of all people.

For example, Proverbs 31:8-9 commands us to “speak up … for the rights of all who are destitute” and to “defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Supporting the work of GWLS can be our opportunity to live out the exhortation in this verse and multiple other verses. Our support helps fellow Wacoans to have more stable, prosperous lives. Our clients are the faces of Waco.

As we approach the holidays, consider giving the gift of peace of mind to a neighbor here in our community. For just $25, you can give an hourlong consult with a lawyer. For $250, you can help a parent get custody of his or her children or help a neighbor get clear ownership to their family home.

Visit our website at greater and click the gold “donate” button in the upper right hand corner of the home screen, mail a check to Greater Waco Legal Services, PO Box 689, Waco, TX 76703, or contact our executive director, Kent McKeever, at kent@greaterwaco to learn more.

Black, Hispanic and American Indian residents were missed at higher rates than a decade ago during the 2020 census, according to a report released Thursday that evaluated how well the once-a-decade head count tallied every US resident.Even though the 2020 census missed an unexpectedly small percentage of the total US population given the unprecedented challenges it faced, the increase in undercounts among some minority groups prompted an outcry from civil rights leaders who blamed political interference by the Trump administration, which tried unsuccessfully to add a citizenship question to the census form and cut field operations short.”These numbers are devastating. Once again, we see an overcount of White Americans and an undercount of Black and Hispanic Americans,” National Urban League CEO Marc Morial said on a call with reporters. “I want to express in the strongest possible terms our outrage.”The results of the US Census Bureau’s Post-Enumeration Survey showed that most racial and ethnic minorities were overlooked at statistically significant higher rates than a decade ago, with the Asian population being an exceptions. The survey measures whether certain populations were undercounted or overrepresented in the census. Overcounts take place, for example, if someone owns a vacation home and is counted there as well as at a permanent home address. The Black population in the 2020 census had a net undercount of 3.3%, while it was almost 5% for Hispanics and 5.6% for American Indians and Native Alaskans living on reservations. Those identifying as some other race had a net undercount of 4.3%. The non-Hispanic White population had a net overcount of 1.6%, and Asians had a net overcount of 2.6%, according to the results. In the 2010 census, by comparison, the Black population had a net undercount of more than 2%, while it was 1.5% for the Hispanic population. There was almost a 4.9% undercount for American Indian and Alaskan Natives living on reservations, and it was 1.6% for people identifying as some other race and 0.08% for Asians. The non-Hispanic White population had a net overcount of 0.8%.The 2020 census missed 0.24% of the entire US population, a rate that wasn’t statistically significant, while it missed 0.01% in the 2010 census.The census figures help determine the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year as well as how many congressional seats each state gets. Any undercounts in various populations can shortchange the amount of funding and political representation they get over the next decade. In the years leading up to the 2020 census, advocates worried that a failed attempt by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question to the census questionnaire would scare off Hispanics and immigrants from participating, whether they were in the country legally or not. The Trump administration also unsuccessfully tried to get the Census Bureau to exclude people in the country illegally from numbers used for divvying up congressional seats among the states and cut short the schedule for field operations that had been extended because of the pandemic.During a conference call Thursday, Census Bureau Director Robert Santos said many Latino communities throughout the US suffered during the pandemic from joblessness and housing insecurity, and that played a role in the undercount. But he added that the Trump administration’s actions also may have had an impact.”I’m personally not surprised to see the results we see today,” said Santos, who was sworn into the position at the beginning of the year.The severe undercount of the Hispanic population helps explain why three states with large Latino populations underperformed in the 2020 census, with Arizona failing to gain an extra seat, Florida gaining only a single seat and Texas getting only two seats, said Arturo Vargas, CEO of NALEO Educational Fund “It was startling to me, the level of undercount,” Vargas said. “We knew there was going to be an undercount, but the extent of it took me by surprise.”About 70% of Native Americans live on reservations. James Tucker, the chairman of a Census Bureau advisory committee, estimated the undercount translates to at least 100,000 Native Americans on reservations not counted and more than a $300 million loss in federal funding for Indian Country annually.”This undercount is not new it is a continuous cycle of erasure of Native people from society,” said Lycia Maddocks, a citizen of the Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe in Arizona who is political director of NDN Collective, a South Dakota-based advocacy group. “In a practical sense, an undercount means that Native people are not looked at as a significant voting block when in reality, our population has proven itself to be the margin of victory in key states such as Arizona.”The pandemic disrupted census operations and schedules, and it made residents wary of

The Rev. Susan Finck has been pastor at Waco’s bilingual El Calvario Presbyterian Church for almost 20 years. She is president of the Greater Waco Legal Services board.

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