Immigration program’s new director aims to ‘break walls and barriers’

by | Feb 11, 2022 | Advocacy, Refugees & Immigrants, Staff Spotlight

With each step of his 10-year professional journey with LCSNW, Alma Jean has kept an unwavering focus on immigrant and refugee rights. He started as a legal intern, then took a job as a staff attorney, winning more than 42 cases for asylum seekers on at least four continents.

Now Alma is shifting into a new role, becoming Director of the agency’s Immigration Counseling and Advocacy Program (ICAP). As the first person in the post, the Portland resident will bring vision and cohesion to this important work at a vital time; ICAP has historically been led by managers in different field offices.

Alma Jean has been named Director of the Immigration Counseling and Advocacy Program (ICAP), a new director-level position at LCSNW.

Under Alma’s leadership, delivering effective legal advice with compassion and a commitment to client dignity will remain the top priority. The program serves immigrants and refugees in Oregon (Portland, Beaverton, Yamhill County and Salem) as well as Washington (Vancouver and the Puget Sound area).

“The geographic reach of our ICAP program is great,” Alma said. “We are uniquely situated to meet the clients where they need to be met, so we have greater access to justice for them.”

In 2020, the program served 2,859 people, just in Oregon. ICAP’s 14 counselors, attorneys and program managers stay busy handling immigration status adjustments, citizenship applications and petitions to reunite separated families. They assist young “Dreamers” who are entangled in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) cases. About half of Alma’s workload revolves around asylum seekers who fear returning to their home countries.

But Alma sees potential for more. “I envision ICAP as a national advocate to fight against unfair and inhumane immigration laws and policies that effectively separate families and treat immigrants as foes,” he says. “ICAP must fight for immigrant rights, break the walls and barriers real and imagined, and help others see immigrants’ humanity, one immigrant story at a time.”

LCSNW has offered immigration legal services since 1979. Heike Lake, the agency’s Chief Operating Officer, called the new ICAP Director position “an investment in the future success of these vital services that builds on the foundational vision and hard work of many years and many people.”

For Alma, the new job is a natural progression in the arc of his life story. Born in South Korea, he immigrated with his family to Hawaii at age 8. At Willamette Law School in Salem, he got involved in a “very innovative” Immigration Clinic that did asylum work and filed complaints against the US government on behalf of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainees.

While in law school, Alma connected with Salah Ansary, LCSNW’s senior district director of Multicultural Services, who was giving a class presentation. Alma came to the agency as an intern before he was hired full-time in November 2012.

Today Alma is awed by the ICAP program managers and counselors who have been doing this “great and tireless” work even longer than he has, upwards of 20 years. “They must have reunited families into the thousands,” he said.

And he’s as determined as ever to see the promise of U.S. immigration policy reforms fulfilled, including a path to citizenship for an estimated 10.5 million undocumented immigrants. “We’ve been waiting over 20 years.”

Fun fact about Alma: This Hawaii-raised boy now has ties to Idaho, though he felt like a fish out of water (a humuhumunukunukuapua’a out of water?) the first time he visited. “My greatest personal achievement has been marrying an Idaho girl, raising three wonderful children, and making a beautiful life in the Pacific Northwest.”