Tagalog legal assistance helpline launched in LA County

TO expand its reach of legal services in the growing Filipino community, non-profit organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Los Angeles has launched a free Tagalog helpline to assist the community with citizenship issues.

“We know that many Filipino-Americans speak English, but many still have language barriers and many prefer to speak Tagalog or another Filipino dialect as they try to get services,” said Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of Advancing Justice. “Without that, many Filipinos have difficulties accessing services and will not come forward. Some, as many Asian immigrants, will suffer in silence rather than reaching out and getting the help that they need.”

The launch of the helpline comes at amid time of tremendous growth in the Filipino-American community in Los Angeles County, which has the largest Fil-Am population among all US counties. From 2006 to 2010, the Filipino-American population saw a 63 percent jump. LA County alone is home to about 375,000 Filipinos.

Dyan Pastrana, vice consul at the Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles, said the line is a welcome tool for Filipinos requiring legal help. At the Consulate, many who come in still ask, “Pwedeng mag Tagalog?” or, “Can I speak Tagalog?” indicating that while many Filipinos do possess a level of English proficiency, many also remain more comfortable speaking in their native tongue.

“This hotline will really, really bridge the gap for all the Filipinos out there who need assistance,” Pastrana said.

The new line is part of Advancing Justice’s Asian Legal Intake Project (ALLIP), which provides toll-free hotlines to low-income community members in a variety of legal areas, including family law and domestic violence, employment, housing and immigration. The Tagalog line will focus on the area of citizenship, as Advancing Justice has noticed that many Fil-Ams wish to become US citizens.

In California, an estimated 104,000 Filipinos are eligible for US citizenship, with about 85,000 of those in LA County alone.

AALIP’s new Tagalog helpline will be staffed full time by Jeanette Sayno, who was formerly involved with non-profit social service agency Filipino American Service Group, Inc. (FASGI) for about 10 years. Sayno is also fluent in Cebuano and Hiligaynon.

Established in 2002, AALIP has seven toll-free hotlines to assist Chinese, English, Khmer, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, and now, Tagalog, speakers.

In 2015, the project received more than 10,000 calls.

The Tagalog helpline is generally staffed Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 3:30pm. Filipinos requiring assistance in legal areas are encouraged to call (800) 300-2552. (Agnes Constante / AJPress)

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