by Olivia Knight, MAS, Juntos para Jóvenes/United for Youth Case Manager
Today I want to share a heartwarming story of a student whose custody hearing I observed in person. I started working with the student last year, when I first began working at Project Libertad as a case manager. This particular client was an excellent student during her first year of school in the United States, and she had received almost all As, despite the fact that none of the teachers at school spoke her first language, an indigenous language.
Things changed during her second year, and I still remember the first messages we exchanged, in which she told me about her pregnancy. She was scared and unsure of how to proceed. She had a lot of absences from school, and when her baby was born in the spring, she left school due to a lack of childcare.
We knew that she had a track record of academic excellence, and we also knew that school attendance would be an important factor in obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. So, at Project Libertad, we strongly advocated for her. We helped her reach out to a custody lawyer who was willing to take her case and worked closely with her on it. We connected with her teachers and high school administrators, who created a personalized path for her to continue school online. We arranged for a social worker to evaluate past trauma, to help explain why she left her home country, and why she missed so much school. And finally, we connected with her father, who is her caregiver and was instrumental in providing all the resources she needed to be successful.
Thanks to all of these efforts and collaborations, we obtained the custody order required for her immigration case, and her Special Immigrant Juvenile Status application was filed this week!
Learn more about Olivia's work here.
by Rogelio Ayllon, Board President
Recently, I had the opportunity to help Rachel, our Executive Director, with legal intakes for middle school students in one of the school districts we serve. It was an opportunity to see our work on the ground and meet many of the youth that we serve.
The legal intake process was tough — it was difficult to not sound shocked or emotional as the youth shared their stories. As a board member, I am generally removed from the day-to-day operations, so getting to experience our daily work helped me appreciate even more the work that our staff and volunteers do day in and day out. It is not easy work, and yet our volunteers choose to help because they believe in the importance of what we do.
In many ways, this experience also amplified my belief in Project Libertad’s mission and why our work is so critically important. I spoke to a newcomer who had endured a brutal 3-month trip to the United States with his family, exposed to life-threatening situations to seek protection. Throughout his trip, they crossed two borders, saw friends die along the way, were threatened by various people, went hungry, and slept on the pavement as they awaited processing into the US.
Immigration has a multifaceted impact on children’s lives. On top of not being entitled to legal representation through the immigration process, the arduous trip to seek entrance into the US takes a toll on their physical and mental health. When they are successfully admitted, they often face financial insecurity and are vulnerable to abuse due to their status.
At Project Libertad, we aim to bridge that gap by providing legal, educational, and mental health programs for immigrant youth. The support that we get from donors, advocates, and volunteers goes a long way to ensure that we meet the needs of these children. Every donation, whether it’s $5 or $1,000, allows us to help more youth like the ones I met recently.
I hope you’ll help us make an impact. Please consider donating or volunteering!