In Conversation with The Florence Project

Yesterday I highlighted The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project and was happy to connect with Leah Bishop, Community Engagement Coordinator, who wrote to me about the challenging and heartwrenching year the organization has had.

We are constantly preparing ourselves for the next attack on the civil liberties and human rights of the people we serve.

 

It’s hard to talk about our successes in the past year without talking first about the challenges. Over the past year, we’ve seen the current administration systematically attack the rights of migrants and asylum seekers. The border has become increasingly militarized. Our clients’ right to seek asylum on the grounds of domestic and gang violence is in jeopardy. The administration has attempted to illegally restrict the rights of migrants to petition for asylum if not sought at a port of entry. Furthermore, as we saw this summer, the government has been increasing the use of family separation to deter migration. These policies are not only disheartening on an ideological and political level; they have also dramatically altered the course of countless individual lives. This summer, we worked with hundreds of children who had been ripped from their parents arms. We prepped children for court who were too young to know what country they were from. We searched for the missing parents of our child clients and the missing children of our adult clients. Our clients– strong, resilient, brave individuals– have had trauma unnecessarily inflicted on them by the very people from whom they sought refuge. The challenges posed by increasingly draconian immigration policies are innumerable, and we are constantly preparing ourselves for the next attack on the civil liberties and human rights of the people we serve.

Across the country, people rose up to resist injustice and demand that the administration respect human rights.

In the midst of this darkness, each client who invites us to accompany them on their fight for justice is a light that moves us forward. When I think about our wins this year, I think about the teenagers who, due to the advocacy of our legal team and social workers, were able to gain housing, education, and legal status and avoid adult detention. I think about our clients with severe mental health issues who we helped obtain medication, treatment, and fair treatment under the law. I think about the many times that our attorneys didn’t take no for an answer– appealing denied asylum claims over and over again. I think of each client who is released from their incarceration.

This year, though, we saw community support in a way that we’ve never seen it before. Across the country, people rose up to resist injustice and demand that the administration respect human rights. I think that people finally gained insight into the persecution that is effectively hidden by the U.S. immigration detention system, and the response was incredible. Thanks to the generosity of people across the nation, we were able to increase the number of attorneys, legal assistants, and social workers that we have on staff. We were offered platforms to share stories of our clients’ experiences and volunteer support to keep our organization afloat. We could not have survived 2018 without every single one of our supporters.

Our staff suddenly found themselves comforting crying toddlers, trying to extract legal information from children who had become non-verbal, and repeatedly fielding the question, “Do you know where my Daddy is?”

I’d like to highlight a group of individuals that I think the world needs to know about– all of the legal assistants on our Children’s Program. All of our staff is vital, but, this summer, as hundreds of families were separated in the course of a few weeks, our legal assistants went daily to the shelters where the children were being held. In the 18 years that our Children’s Program has existed, our staff has worked almost entirely with teenagers who decided to come to the United States unaccompanied. Though these children faced immense challenges, they at least knew why they had come to the United States. On May 7th of this year, all of that changed. Our staff suddenly found themselves comforting crying toddlers, trying to extract legal information from children who had become non-verbal, and repeatedly fielding the question, “Do you know where my Daddy is?” Our legal staff had to radically change the way that they worked with their clients. They played with toys, sat on the floor, and made coloring books to teach children about their legal rights. They became the children’s legal defenders as well as their playmates and confidants. While our attorneys did the incredibly important work of creating legal strategies, finding missing parents, and going to court, our legal assistants did the heart-wrenching work of accompaniment.

Thank you again to Leah and the entire staff and volunteers with FIRRP for all that you’re doing help these kids and families.

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