Summer Respite for Kids from Migrant Families

July 29, 2011; Source: Tampa Bay Online | A handful of children from migrant families have been able to enjoy a great American tradition: attending summer camp. Four churches banded together to give more than 100 youngsters the opportunity to enroll in a church-sponsored day camp in Dover, Florida. The children are treated to meals, games, and, of course, some bible study.

Hal Stinespring, pastor of a Georgia congregation, said, “It’s about the gospel. It’s bringing communities together and giving kids the chance to interact with one another regardless of where they are from, what their financial circumstances [are], or what race they may be.”

The National Center for Farmworker Health reports that there are more than three million migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the United States. Close to 10 percent of the laborers and their families are based in the Sunshine State. Florida, along with Texas and California, is one of the top three sending states for migrants – that is, states these itinerant workers call home. Farmworkers fan out to where crops need to be harvested, and return once the season is over. Workers usually travel alone, leaving their families behind – particularly those with school-age children.

Children from migrant families have lives that are vastly different from those of their peers. Poverty regularly denies them the activities and luxuries most American kids take for granted. This camp not only brings communities together, it provides these youngsters with a chance to be just like everyone else – if only for the summer.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly, Nonprofit Newswire, July 31, 2011.

State DREAM Acts: Far from Fulfilling the Dream

Documented and undocumented youth rally for passage of the Dream Act in Times Square - Photo: Sarah Kramer

Frustrated by Washington’s inertia on immigration reform, many states have enacted their own immigration laws, mostly geared towards pushing undocumented immigrants out. State lawmakers have pursued a principle of attrition which anti-illegal immigration group NumbersUSA describes as the “enforcement of all the laws already on the books” at all levels of government to “make it extremely difficult for unauthorized persons to live and work in the United States.” This is accomplished by either imposing strict sanctions on employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants and/or enlisting local and state law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people.

A few states have chosen a different tack and passed laws that aim to make the lives of certain undocumented immigrants a little bit better.  These sympathetic legislators are passing bills that have in mind the welfare and future of children and youth who were brought into the United States as minors by their parents and who consider America their home and themselves Americans.  These measures are touted as state versions of the federal DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented young people.

Ten years ago, the Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, signed into law his state’s version of the DREAM Act, which allows in-state tuition for undocumented students who have lived in Texas for three years and either have obtained a GED or graduated from an accredited public or private school.

This month, Maryland was to enact a similar law for Dreamers – the moniker given to undocumented youth – so long as they prove that their parents paid taxes and that they have gone to high school in the state. But opponents of the statute were able to muster more than enough signatures for a petition to repeal the Maryland DREAM Act, and a referendum on the law will be held in 2012.

On Monday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law his state’s own version and even hinted that he would support a measure allowing undocumented students to seek state-funded tuition aid.

While these initiatives are welcomed by Dreamers, their families and advocates, none address the fundamental dilemma faced by these young Americans: their undocumented status. In this sense, the DREAM Acts of California, Maryland and Texas are vastly different from the failed federal version which presents a way to citizenship for some young immigrants.

Dreamers in these few states may now envision a college degree, but can they see a secure and bright future for themselves and their families? Armed with a diploma, they will not be able to work legally and most likely not in the fields they studied.

Will they have to go underground? Or worse, will they leave their adopted country for places they don’t remember, but where they might be embraced and where their taxpayer subsidized education could be put to good use?

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, July 28, 2011.

Nonprofit Expands Border Services to Undocumented Immigrants

July 5, 2011; Source: | Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON), a national network of free legal clinics held at local United Methodist Church congregations is expanding its operations to Brownsville, Texas located right at the U.S.-Mexico border.

JFON provides professional legal services to immigrants “who need a helping hand to navigate the maze of rules and laws that affect their lives in the United States.” Undocumented immigrants like “Luis” avails of JFON’s assistance. He has lived in the U.S. for 11 years and has sought ways to gain legal status with no success.

Carole Lahti, JFON’s regional coordinator said, “The need is so great along the border here that we’re going to start operating a clinic in Brownsville.”

Immigrant demand for legal aid will no doubt increase not only along the border but throughout the country as more states pass immigration laws designed to weed out and expel undocumented immigrants. A good number of the estimated 12 million unauthorized immigrants as well as those mistaken for undocumented newcomers will require professional counsel and representation.

Originally posted on the Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, July 11, 2011.