Friday, a new law office dedicated to helping local residents with immigration issues will open in Huntingburg.
Christie Popp, a partner at Bloomington-based Popp & Bullman, plans on opening an office in the former WTH office building across from Huntingburg City Hall. She will be available several days a month to meet with clients.
Popp first started in immigration law in 2007 when she worked with Indiana Legal Services providing services and outreach in Southern Indiana as part of their Immigration Law Project.
Through her experiences there as well as her family’s own connections to Latin America, she developed a passion for practicing immigration law. She continued when she started her private practice in 2012. In 2017, she and her husband, Greg Bullman, formed their partnership in Bloomington and she continued focusing on immigration issues while Greg handles business law.
Popp, who is originally from Jeffersonville, has a passion for helping people who are in difficult situations due to their immigration statuses. “I view immigrants as a very vulnerable population in our country and I feel a calling to help people who are vulnerable and in need,” she explained.
Recognizing that a large immigrant population exists in Southern Indiana due to the type of jobs available here, Popp joined a study group through the University of Indiana to meet with government officials and nonprofits in Dubois County to discuss what needs weren’t being met for this immigrant population.
“The overarching need for these groups were legal services,” Popp explained. “There is a great need. The closest offices are in Bloomington, Louisville and there is one person in Evansville.”
She began making plans to open the satellite office soon after the meetings. In early December, she announced the new office on Facebook and opened a phone line where local immigrants can call to find out information and potentially set up appointments with her office in Huntingburg.
Her office handles the full gambit of immigration issues including helping individuals facing deportation under the loss of DACA status (Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals for people who were brought to the country as young children) or temporary protected status — TPS is granted to individuals who emigrate to the United States due to a natural disaster or political persecution in their home country.
“People with TPS, DACA and many other types of (immigration) statuses have been here for 15, 20, 30 years so the idea of leaving the country is a significant thing,” Popp said. “We are talking about long-term residents of Indiana.”
She also helps with asylum cases. According to Popp, Southern Indiana has individuals living here who have left El Salvador, Honduras. Liberia, Somalia, and other countries due to war or other disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes.
Over the past year, she has seen an increase in cases for asylum seekers from China who are being persecuted for their religious views. “It’s basically a genocide over there,” she said.
Asylum cases are especially important to Popp who recognizes that a failure in one of these cases could result in a person being sent back to their country and ultimately killed.
“Every time I get a case approved, it is such a relief because there is so much riding on each one,” she explained.
While cases like a civil war in El Salvador and the religious persecution in China can be easier to prove the need for these individuals to remain in the United States, cases from Honduras where the dangers come from civil unrest and gang-related violence are harder to prove.
Additionally, according to Popp, the government has made it difficult to win those cases. Subsequently, particularly in the Honduran instances, the majority of these cases involve women who face horrible torture — being skinned alive — and rape at the hands of these gangs if they return to their country.
“I can’t even imagine what that must feel like, but when we succeed in those cases, the sense of relief (by the client) in knowing they are finally safe is incredible,” Popp said.
Popp also helps immigrants whose families have been split up. “There is so much riding on each one of my cases. It’s a husband who is bringing his wife who he hasn’t seen for two years here or a mother who hasn’t seen her son for seven years,” she said.
Through recent meetings with a volunteer group in Dubois County, the Latino Collaboration Table, three areas of focus have been identified: language and culture; education; and immigration.
For local employers, these focuses are important for maintaining a substantial workforce in the region.
Popp’s new office will help address the legal focus which is a substantial step for the affected individuals. Many aren’t here illegally but are concerned with their legal status in the future or as Popp, pointed out, need help with other family members.
“This will have a direct impact on our ability to help our local employers,” Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner said.
For the employers, having a local office will cut down on employees having to miss work to have these concerns addressed. In itself, this can be the main they don’t pursue legal services to maintain their immigration status.
“We know there are a significant number of people in the area that need these services,” Spinner said. “I am impressed with Christie’s commitment to our community. We welcome her and want to support her any way we can.”