Stacy Volovar and law partners

From left, Ann Wilson, Stacy Volovar and Jennifer Rankin, the attorneys at Rankin Volovar LLC. There are only a few legal professionals in Frederick that offer Spanish-speaking law services, but some organizations are working to try to bridge the gap.

The Hispanic population in Frederick County has quadrupled since 2000, according to U.S. Census data. With a stark increase in population comes a stark increase in need of Spanish-speaking services.

There are still only a few legal professionals in Frederick that offer Spanish-speaking law services, but some organizations are working to try to bridge the gap.

Maria Herrera is the executive director of the Spanish Speaking Community of Maryland, which has offices in both Silver Spring and Frederick. While working out of her office in Silver Spring, she realized that more and more Spanish-speaking immigrants were coming to the office from Frederick County and as far west as Hagerstown. She opened the Frederick office, which is on South Jefferson Street, in 2017.

Herrera is an immigrant herself, migrating to America from Cuba in 1968. Her father founded the Spanish Speaking Community organization to help immigrants adjust to their new lives and communities.

“So we do a lot of immigration work, so we help people get their papers, residency, citizenship, petition, so people can petition the reunification of families,” she said. “Our goal is to get people on their feet and to be able to have them become self-sufficient.”

She has recently partnered with attorney Devin Luqman to provide Spanish-speaking law services to the immigrant community in Frederick County, which she says is increasing. Luqman does not speak Spanish himself, but is learning. Several of his staff members speak Spanish, and he outsources interpreters when needed.

Luqman wanted to get more involved with the immigrant community and reached out to Herrera to see if he could offer her any help. Initially, he helped with documents and answering any questions she had about cases.

The Spanish Speaking Community recently received a grant from the Ausherman Foundation that allows them to provide legal services through Luqman at a discounted rate. The SSC does most of the work on the documentation and translation, which brings costs down for Luqman.

Some of the specialized work they do includes Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which applies to children who were brought into America without documentation and were abused or neglected. They also can provide U-visas, which are available to immigrants who have been the victim of a crime.

Without the grant, immigration legal services could cost between $5,000 and $10,000, Luqman said. That’s due largely in part to the documentation, which the Spanish Speaking Community handles. In addition to personal documents, lawyers have to provide a lengthy description of conditions from the immigrant’s country of origin if they are seeking asylum in America.

“So usually, by the time we get into trial for a case, we have binders with about 400 to 500 pages for trial,” Luqman said.

In addition to high costs and large workloads, immigration cases are often lengthy. The average age of an asylum case is between three and six years. Court dates are typically a year or two apart, since there is a quota for how many visas can be granted each year.

Luqman said he has seen a large increase in the amount of immigration cases.

“If you go into a courthouse you’ll see it’s jam-packed,” he said. “You have to wait outside the door. You can’t even get into the room where the judge is. It’s definitely madness right now.”

With ever-changing immigration policies as well, immigration lawyers are constantly having to think on their feet to best help their clients.

“So while it’s probably the most creative time to be practicing immigration law, it is also at the same time the most difficult,” he said.

Luqman recently started attending parent teacher conferences at Frederick County Public Schools with Herrera. She has a partnership with FCPS where they can refer clients to her. He was surprised at how many people needed Spanish-speaking services.

“I didn’t realize there were so many people who were in need of these services,” he said. “It’s a bigger population than I thought, that is in dire need of help and could not afford it at all.”

Stacy Volovar, who recently opened her own firm with Jennifer Rankin, speaks both Spanish and French. She is a mediator, so she specializes in cases such as divorce and custody. Many clients who come to her speak Spanish.

Rankin also works part-time in the courthouse and says that she doesn’t know of many mediators from Frederick County who speak Spanish.

“There’s just not a lot available in their native tongue,” she said.

For Volovar, it’s important to offer services for Spanish speakers who are in the midst of unfamiliar territory in their legal cases.

“It’s hard for someone who only speaks Spanish to speak English, and then to try to talk about these legal things that nobody even really knows anything about in any language, is difficult,” she said.

She also thinks it’s better to go straight through an attorney who speaks Spanish rather than an interpreter for many clients.

“You’d rather have a meeting in English than have an interpreter, and it’s the same thing. They’re nervous and upset, mad, or whatever, they might be experiencing a bunch of emotions,” she said. “And then to have to try to communicate in that way is another kind of burden. So I’d like to think that it’s useful to speak Spanish.”

Follow Erika Riley on Twitter: @ej_riley.

(11) comments

Lev928

There is nothing wrong with providing interpreters ... in any language .. for court-related and government services purposes. However, this is done for ALL languages. Why focus on Spanish? Is this a politically motivated article, by chance, due to the recent upheaval regarding illegal immigrants in and around Frederick? Or is this a legitimate intent by this legal service (as it is with many professional organizations)? English IS the recognized, primary language within the United States. It's also the responsibility of travelers and immigrants to learn the primary language of the country in which they are living or choose to reside. There is no exception. If you travel to France, for example, do you DEMAND that the staff speak English? No. Adapt. Period.

htrain21

Recognized by who exactly? How much foreign travel experience do you have? You speak with such knowledge! There is no official language of the United States. I am free to speak whatever language I prefer from sea to shining sea. I guess if you understood what it means to be American you would know that.

mrnatural1

My niece is a Spanish interpreter. She is married to a guy who is originally from Mexico. My entire family wrote letters of support to get him into the U.S. My mother spoke fluent Spanish and helped several women from Central and South America move here and become citizens. I studied Spanish for 2-1/2 years in high school, and worked with recent immigrants from all over the world. So I am both familiar with and sympathetic toward people for whom English is a second language.

That said, it is reasonable to expect people (of all races, nationalities, etc) who are living in America, and intend to stay, to learn basic English within a short period of time. Classes could, and probably should, be free -- because they pay for themselves very quickly.

There is no need to get into the weeds over whether or not English is the "official" language of the U.S. -- it is and always has been the primary language spoken by the vast majority of Americans. It is the de facto official language of our country.

There can be no serious question or debate about that. All countries must -- and do -- have a primary, official or quasi-official language. It would be impossible for them to function otherwise. It is 'unrealistic' (to put it mildly) for a person/people -- regardless of where they are from -- to move to another country and expect that all government publications and signs as well as all product packaging will be published/printed in their language; all police depts will have bilingual officers available within minutes 24/7; all gov't offices will have one or more employees that speak their language; all call centers will have their native language as an option; 911 operators will be able to understand them in an emergency; and they will be provided with free/low cost interpreters indefinitely.

I'm not suggesting that all, or even most, people for whom English is a second language consciously think that way, but we do people (and ourselves) no favors by allowing them to avoid or postpone learning English.

francesca_easa

Amen. Other immigrants learn English. Why should Spanish speakers get special privileges?

public-redux

Surely you aren’t suggesting that the private sector be prohibited from offering services to people who speak Spanish?

Comment deleted.
User1

Fake principal....if you read it the Constitution says ZERO about language. Says not a thing about “non-english” speakers. Any other fake news?

Comment deleted.
FCPS-Principal

Where is that written down? Or did you just make that up?

MD1756

I wonder why the Chinese or Indian populations haven't quadrupled here? There's a lot more Chinese and Indian people in this world than Hispanic. So much for diversity. We are reducing over representation of one group (european caucasians) by increasing over representation of another (hispanic).

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