It is the anniversary of the arrival of the first large numbers of newly arrived children from Central America on Long Island a year ago. The children were not always welcomed by local schools, and the usual politicians tried to make a cynical use of fears of these young immigrants to gather votes. A year later the vast majority of the children are in school, but they are still facing a long trail through the court system before they know their ultimate fates.
Last week we had one of our youngest clients come to us for legal representation. This four-year-old who came to the U.S. last summer would be facing an immigration judge alone if we did not step in. Luckily, local groups like CARECEN, Catholic Charities, Touro, and Hofstra University have worked together to organize legal representation. City-based organizations including Safe Passages, KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), and Human Rights First are helping find lawyers for the children in the immigration courts in Manhattan. The New York Immigration Coalition has done trainings and assisted with coordination.
Some funders have also stepped up to provide the money needed for quality legal representation. The Health and Welfare Council, Hagedorn Foundation, Rauch Foundation, Long Island Community Foundation, the Long Island Unitarian Universalist Fund and the Sisters of St. Joseph put together a collaborative grant for the legal protection of the children. A national group, Hispanics in Philanthropy, held a telethon that resulted in a grant to CARECEN. Most recently, the Large Grants Program of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock in Manhasset gave $100,000 grants each to CARECEN, Catholic Charities, Touro, and Hofstra University for services. The Shelter Rock Unitarian Universalist grant was particularly welcome because it was voted on by the Congregation after two days of discussions.
Not all the help has come in the form of pro bono services or grants. Students at Hewlett High School held a drive to collect new coloring books and magic markers so each child coming in for help can leave with something that is fun and creative. The First Brooklyn Unitarian Congregation in Brooklyn Heights is taking up a similar campaign with their religious education students.
When new volunteer attorneys come in to help out one of the things that surprises them is how young the children are. They expect to see teenagers, and are surprised that so many of the children are 11 and 12 years old—often younger. A small gift of a coloring book or toy reminds them that while the Department of Homeland Security treats these children as though they were adults, we know they are kids.