Community Hero Helps Asylum Seekers Start New Lives in U.S.

Community Heroes - Elizabeth Lopez
Attorney Elizabeth Lopez (middle), 2017 Community Hero for Immigration, is the executive director and founder of the Southern California Immigration Project, a nonprofit that provides free or low-cost legal services to asylum seekers.

In 2016, more refugees were resettled in San Diego County than in any other U.S. region, according to KPBS News.

But another, often overlooked group, is fleeing persecution as well: asylum seekers.

Like refugees, asylum seekers come to San Diego for protection due to conflicts in their home country concerning race, religion, nationality, politics or membership in a political group.

However, refugees attain legal status abroad, whereas asylum seekers begin their process either at the U.S. border or from within the U.S., which often means there is no support system in place to help them state their claim.

According to inewssource.org, San Diego receives 600 asylum applications each year.

Immigration Dialogue in San Diego

As part of its efforts to increase dialogue around our most pressing regional challenges, the latest KPBS Community Heroes event placed a spotlight on immigration in San Diego with a focus on asylum seekers.

The event, hosted as the third of a four-part series developed in partnership with the National Conflict Resolution Center (NCRC), the Malin Burnham Center for Civic Engagement at The San Diego Foundation and the Jewish Community Foundation, brought community members together to discuss challenges and solutions surrounding immigration, as well as honor one special individual who devotes her time to helping asylum seekers looking for safety in the U.S.

Attorney Elizabeth Lopez, our 2017 Community Hero, is the executive director and founder of the Southern California Immigration Project, a nonprofit that provides free or low-cost legal services to asylum seekers, predominantly from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon, Rwanda, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Egypt.

“I have won about 80 percent of my cases,” she said.

Compare that to just 4 percent of asylum seekers who win their case without an attorney, according to Lopez.

After describing the process asylum seekers must undertake at the U.S. border, which can include up to six months in a detention facility prior to trial, Lopez spoke to KPBS’ City Heights Reporter Tarryn Mento about the moral obligations San Diegans have to protect others and do what is right for humankind.

“We have to see the goodness in everyone, and that really means everyone, no matter where they are from,” she shared.

Learn More About Protecting Asylum Seekers

Who’s the Next Community Hero?

The fourth and final KPBS Community Hero to be honored in 2017 will be for his or her work in environmental sustainability.

Currently, KPBS and NCRC are accepting nominations for heroes working to make a difference in sustainable energy in San Diego, including people who are encouraging the use of renewable resources such as wind, water and solar power.

The nomination deadline is October 22, 2017.

Nominate a Hero