Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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What is Texas RioGrande Legal Aid?

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) corporation that provides free civil legal assistance to low-income Texans in South, Central and West Texas. In addition, TRLA provides services to migrant farm workers in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana on cases that involve issues relating to their status as migrants. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and stability of low-income clients by providing high quality civil legal assistance and related educational services. TRLA also operates public defender programs in eight Southwest Texas counties, providing representation to persons accused of crimes. Services generally include representation in felonies, misdemeanors and juvenile cases. The public defender programs are jointly funded by the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense and the participating counties. TRLA is the only non-profit corporation providing trial-level criminal defense services in Texas.

What are the TRLA eligibility standards?

To qualify for free legal services from TRLA, an applicant must meet the income, asset and immigration requirements established by the United States Congress, the Texas Legislature, and by various funding sources. Generally, each funding source has its own requirements that TRLA staff must apply to determine whether an applicant is eligible under a particular grant. With over 50 different funding sources, those requirements are obviously complicated, but TRLA will always attempt to find a funding source that will permit representation for persons who are unable to afford the services of a private attorney, if possible.

The guidelines are complicated, but trained intake workers will be the first step of the process.  Applicants will be asked various questions regarding income, assets and citizenship or immigration status in order to see whether they are eligible. To start the application process, call 1-888-988-9996.

What cities and counties does your service area include?

TRLA is the largest legal aid provider in the state and the third largest in the United States. It provides services to eligible residents of a 68-county region of Southwest Texas, from the Mexican border on the Rio Grande to Central Texas. TRLA’s main office is located in Mercedes in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and branch offices are located in Austin, San Antonio, Victoria, Beeville, Sinton, Corpus Christi, Brownsville, Harlingen, Edinburg, Laredo, Eagle Pass, Del Rio, Alpine, and El Paso. TRLA also serves migrant and seasonal farm workers throughout Texas, and, in addition, has an office in Nashville, Tennessee that serves farm workers in six southern states (Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky) through its Southern Migrant Legal Services project. Representation in criminal cases is provided in 8 counties: Bee, Live Oak, and McMullen from an office in Beeville; Willacy County from the Harlingen office; and Val Verde, Kinney, Edwards and Terrell counties from the Del Rio office.

Who are the clients that TRLA serves?

TRLA employs over 135 attorneys and 65 paralegals who work to provide the basic human needs of our clients. The majority of TRLA clients are low-income women and children who are victims of domestic violence and who need assistance in escaping violence and remaining violence-free. Other types of clients include migrant and seasonal farm workers, disabled residents, victims of elder abuse, the homeless, and displaced workers to name a few. Our screening process is designed to prioritize clients whose problems are life-altering or threatening. TRLA clients share two very important characteristics: they are overwhelmingly Latino, and they are oppressively poor. Over 90% of TRLA’s clients are of Mexican descent. Upwards of one-half of the clients speak Spanish as their primary language.

Does TRLA represent people who have been charged with crimes?

Most of TRLA’s grants are restricted to providing services in civil cases, rather than representing persons who are accused of crimes. There are some exceptions to those rules, such as when the criminal charge arises out of a case where TRLA is representing the person in a civil matter. In counties where TRLA does not have a public defender program, we can still provide legal advice and counsel on such matters as how to obtain a court-appointed lawyer, or what options are available for getting released from jail before trial, such as no-fee personal recognizance bonds.

As of 2010, TRLA represents criminal defendants through its public defender programs in Bee, Live Oak, McMullen, Willacy, Val Verde, Edwards, Kinney and Terrell counties. If you have been charged with a felony, misdemeanor or juvenile offense in one of those counties, or believe that you might be, you may consult with a TRLA criminal defense lawyer in the Beeville, Harlingen or Del Rio offices.

How do eligible clients get help?

Clients can access TRLA’s services by calling our toll-free number at 1-888-988-9996 or by coming into any one of the offices listed above.