Yer Vang discusses her new position; her life story
By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant
DECORAH — The U.S. immigration system is messy and complex, characterized by lengthy wait times and frustrating bureaucratic hurdles. Navigating it can prove a daunting task for individuals and families hoping to enter the country and gain legal status. No one understands this better than Yer L. Vang, the new immigration attorney for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, who has dedicated her career to providing legal assistance to those with immigration needs and who was once an immigrant herself.
Vang joined the staff of Catholic Charities in mid-February. While her primary office is located at the agency’s Decorah site, Vang works with clients living throughout the archdiocese, offering legal services and representation to immigrants in a variety of different circumstances, with a special focus on assisting unaccompanied minors. The United States has seen an increase in recent years in the number of children coming to the country by themselves as they flee violence in places like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
“We also provide assistance to those seeking legal permanent residency status (green cards), citizenship and asylum,” Vang said of the work she and her colleagues do at Catholic Charities. Additionally, they conduct educational outreach to different immigrant and refugee communities throughout northeast Iowa and provide training and presentations for those who have an interest in learning more about the immigration process.
A 2001 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, Vang has worked with immigrant and refugee communities for more than 15 years. She served as an immigration attorney for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a non-profit organization now known as End Domestic Abuse WI, Rise Law Center, where she provided legal technical assistance and training for domestic violence programs and advocates. Later, while serving in private practice, Vang provided legal representation to immigrant and refugee survivors of violence and abuse and assisted clients in gaining legal status through federal immigration laws such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
Vang is incredibly passionate about her work and said she draws inspiration from her own personal immigration story. Vang was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, where she and her family waited for four and a half years before being permitted to immigrate to the United States in 1979. “Our family was fortunate to have received help through the advocacy of those involved with the Lutheran Immigration Refugee Services and the Decorah Good Shepherd Lutheran Church,” Vang reflected. “Given this experience, I knew that I wanted to give back to the community … I want to help those in need who find themselves in similarly situated circumstances like our family.”
While she’s able to help many of her clients attain the same happy ending that she and her own family experienced as immigrants, Vang said that is not always the case. “There are no guarantees of success or outcomes for the clients we serve,” she said. “I have represented children and families who have undergone so much hardship and yet sometimes there isn’t a clear legal recourse or remedy to pursue on their behalf.”
Despite the challenges, Vang said her new role at Catholic Charities is extremely rewarding and she’s grateful for the opportunity to offer assistance to people who might be afraid and feel otherwise alone in the immigration system. “If I can alleviate some of the stress and help resolve a legal burden to make someone’s life better, this makes me feel hopeful. I know that I cannot solve all of life’s problems, but I want to do what I can to help,” she shared. “This is what keeps me connected to the people I serve and the work I do.”