Community Support Network eNews, July 2014 issue
|July has been a busy month for us all! As unaccompanied minors and families continue to cross the southernmost border at unprecedented rates, we are challenged to stretch our resources, raise our voices and open our hearts in new and creative ways. It is easy to become cynical or discouraged during this time of crisis. However, we have an enormous amount of hope. Every day, ATJ partners and allies nationwide are responding with compassion, creativity and urgency. You have certainly inspired us, and we just wanted to extend a heartfelt thanks for all of your hard work. To offer a brief update on LIRS’s response to the crisis, LIRS is working diligently with government and service partners to expand support and services offered to children and families fleeing to the United States. More specifically, we are focusing on the following responses:
Additionally, we have been busy preparing for the L4: Learning, Leveraging, Leading, and Launching, a national convening which will bring together partners from all three of LIRS’s networks, as well as valued church partners, advocacy allies and migrant/refugee leaders. The conference will be held in Tucson, AZ at the Westin La Paloma, from Tuesday, September 2nd at 6:00 PM – Friday, September 5th at 10:00 AM. We have an exciting agenda of concurrent workshops planned (featuring many ATJ partners!), as well as optional educational and recreational Friday tours. Attendees will take home practical ideas, tools and connections that will collectively strengthen our work on a local and national scale. Please email L4@LIRS.org for registration information.
This month we would like to profile our partners at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), who have responded to the influx of unaccompanied minors with creative urgency. Piloting a new model, RAICES is providing “Know Your Rights” group presentations and individual intake/legal screenings to the 1,200 children held in the temporary relief shelter at Lackland Airforce Base in Texas
RAICES provides two basic bilingual services to the children at Lackland; “Know Your Rights” presentations and individual intake/legal screenings. Know Your Rights presentations inform children (typically ages 6-17) of their basic rights as minors in the U.S. (the right to healthcare, family reunification and education), as well as demystify the U.S. immigration system. Trained volunteers walk minors through the basic steps of an immigration case, note their right to legal counsel, describe a typical immigration court and emphasize the importance of attending all hearings. Children emerge from the presentation with a greater understanding of their rights and responsibilities.
Additionally, RAICES provides individual legal screenings. They help to identify victims of trafficking or those with strong asylum or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status relief claims, through asking detailed questions about the child’s life, family and journey to the United States. “We have identified that a majority of children we have screened are eligible for a relief from deportation pursuant to our humanitarian law,” said Jonathan Ryan, the executive director of RAICES. RAICES provides direct legal representation to eligible children seeking reunification in Central and South Texas, and provides legal referrals to children rejoining family members elsewhere. However, Jonathan noted that the demand for attorneys far exceeds existing legal capacity. “The hurdle that will in many cases prevent children from accessing that justice is they are unable to connect with an attorney or representative who is competent and affordable in order to allow them to prepare those requests for humanitarian protection,” Jonathan shared.
However, RAICES is committed to screening, prepping and representing as many children as possible. In the past five weeks, RAICES has conducted between 90 and 100 intakes per day.
Systematic and creative in their approach, a star shaped sticker is placed on a child’s ID card upon completing the training and screening. The children are further divided based on their final destination, and ability to be reunified with family.
The scope of their outreach is made possible by a dedicated “volunteer staff”. RAICES hosted three volunteer informational sessions at St. Mary’s University Law School. Selective in their recruitment, volunteers were required to submit an application, sign a confidentiality agreement and attend trainings. While the training provided an overview of the legal system, a significant focus included tips and techniques on communicating and relating to youth, as the success of an intake is reliant on a child’s willingness to share personal stories and difficult details. Few of the volunteers are attorneys; however Ryan appreciates the “fresh eyes” they bring to the conversation.
A big congratulations to Jonathan and the entire RAICES staff and volunteers!
To learn more about the program, please visit RAICES’ blog.
Over the past several years, the National Unitarian Universalist Association has taken a stand, launching a proactive campaign to support immigrant rights and to advocate for more human treatment of immigration detainees. Their response is rooted in the first two principals of their covenantal faith tradition:
Marie Cornely’s* involvement was sparked by a training offered by the National UU Association. She and members of her congregation attended a 6 week educational series discussing immigration as a moral issue. They returned fired-up, ready to learn more and act.
They reached out to First Friends, a community support partner in Newark, NJ, and began visiting individuals isolated in immigration detention.
“It was a rude awakening to see how people are treated, what kind of conditions they are held in.” Marie reflected.
Marie’s commitment has only grown over the years. She and her husband are currently hosting Charles*, a young man whom they previously visited in immigration detention. After staying with a few families, he found himself without a safe place to live last August.
“I became concerned that he might be living in a place that would put him in harm’s way, or risk him being picked up again and put in detention. I told my husband that the only thing we can do is have him come live with us,” Marie shared.
They have welcomed him into their home as family, introducing him as their “adopted grandson.” They try to encourage and coach him, and helped him to get his driver’s license and to enroll in certified nurse’s assistant courses.
However, Marie and her husband are not alone. The entire UU Congregation at Montclair, NJ has stepped up, and welcomed Charles into the wider community. Members of the congregation have provided him with personal support, transportation and even employment opportunities over the past year.
Charles recently received a state license as a certified nurse’s assistant and is working full time in a nursing home. He is also pursuing a college degree online, as he awaits his immigration hearing. Marie believes he has a strong case, if he ever makes it before a judge.
In the meantime, Marie and her husband lead advocacy efforts, hoping to see systemic change. “Our advocacy work has continued at two levels,” she explains. “We have written letters of support to our congressional representatives to support the proposed Immigration Reform legislation. We also started a statewide letter writing campaign called 1,000 Voices for Immigration Justice.”
The letter writing campaign is intended to urge President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to stop the mass detention and mass deportations of undocumented immigrants.
When asked about her family’s exceptional hospitality, Marie replied, “I would never have used the term hospitality for what we are doing… I would call it sanctuary. We are offering a residence and also our love and concern for the safety and well-being of a young man who had no family in this country.”
If you are interested in hosting an individual or family in your home, please contact JCoffin@lirs.org.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy
Database Training (registration information will be emailed out shortly)
ATJNet Database Training: CS Client Management (Social Service Providers)
Who is the Community Support Network?
In partnership with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) LIRS launched the Community Support Network in 2012, a national service model to examine the efficiency of community-based services as an alternative to immigration detention. This initiative inspires volunteers and funds non-profit service agencies to offer a continuum of care that facilitates immigrants’ release from detention, immediate support and stabilization services, torture and trauma rehabilitation, and eventually long term integration. In 2012, the Community Support Network served approximately 85 people post-release and brought together over 80 practitioners for a conference about alternatives to current enforcement practices.