We're shouting a huge congratulations to our client Carlos, who became a Legal Permanent Resident this week!
Congratulations to our client Carlos on becoming a Legal Permanent Resident or LPR! This is the legal term for someone with a green card. We are so proud of Carlos and the patience, resilience, and hard work that have gotten him to this point. Carlos's case was truly a labor of love that encompassed multiple nonprofit organizations, lawyers, social workers, and the ongoing support of friends and family in order to get to this point.
Carlos arrived in the US in 2016 as an unaccompanied child, fleeing danger in his home country of Honduras. Carlos was processed through the immigration system as an unaccompanied minor and sent to a youth shelter run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, before being released to live with a relative in Philadelphia, where he would pursue his immigration case. Our Executive Director Rachel Rutter began representing Carlos in late 2016 through the Immigrant Youth Advocacy Project at HIAS Pennsylvania.
Carlos qualified for a special type of humanitarian immigration status called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status or SIJS -- but there was a catch. Carlos was just weeks away from turning 18 and permanently aging out of this special immigration option for youth. In order to qualify for SIJS, Carlos would need a family court order (like a custody or dependency order) making certain special findings before he turned 18. Thankfully, Jean Strout, a wonderful and accomplished attorney and youth advocate from the Support Center for Child Advocates, stepped up to help Carlos get the court order he needed just in the nick of time. Through SCCA, Carlos also had the support of a social worker, who helped him enroll in school, obtain medical care, and more.
Thanks to Jean's hard work obtaining that court order, Carlos was able to apply for SIJS in March 2017. The SIJS process takes years to complete. After applying, the government often requests more evidence. In Carlos's case, the government requested more evidence and even issued a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) the case, even though Carlos had a strong SIJS case. Ultimately, however, Carlos was able to fight the NOID, and his SIJS case was finally approved in December 2018 -- nearly two years after he applied!
However, Carlos's wait did not end there. After a child has approved SIJS, they still do not have any lawful immigration status, as confusing as that may sound. Rather, all that an approved SIJS gives the child is the opportunity to apply for a green card down the road, when it is finally their turn to apply. Whose turn it is to apply is determined through a confusing system called the USCIS visa bulletin.
There is a long backlog of SIJS cases for Central American children, meaning that many kids wait as long as three or four years just to apply for their green card after obtaining SIJS. In the meantime, SIJS kids are stuck in limbo, undocumented, and do not have the ability to work legally or obtain a social security number.
Project Libertad has had clients in this situation turn 18 before obtaining their green card and end up being detained by ICE in spite of their approved SIJS. In some areas of the US, it is common for immigration judges to order deportation for these children with approved SIJS, simply because a green card is not yet available for them. It is unconscionable that our inefficient and inhumane immigration system allows this to happen.
When Rachel left HIAS PA to launch the Immigrant Children's Defense Project at Project Libertad in February 2020, she brought Carlos's case with her. Carlos remained in SIJS purgatory. While Carlos awaited his turn to apply for his green card, he dealt patiently and graciously with the various struggles he faced as a result of the SIJS limbo. In October 2020 -- four years after his arrival in the United States -- his turn came, and Carlos applied for his green card. Finally, in August 2021, Carlos's green card was approved!
Thank you, Carlos, for the honor of representing you and watching you handle all of the challenges with grace as you grew from a teenager to a hard-working, caring, and compassionate adult. We can't wait to see what the future holds for you!
The brutal police killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Chicago has us reflecting on how much more likely our students are to experience violence than their US Citizen peers, simply because of where they were born and the color of their skin.
Immigrant children are much more likely to experience school violence than their non-immigrant peers (Peguero 2008). Newcomers in particular face a heightened risk: first-generation immigrant students are the most likely of all students to feel unsafe at school (Peguero 2008). One study found that immigrant students are “significantly more likely to experience one or more forms of bullying than their U.S.-born counterparts, even after controlling for a number of demographic variables” (Maynard 2016). That same study found that immigrant students are more likely to report being bullied based on “racial/ethnic differences” than their non-immigrant peers (Maynard 2016). Specifically, immigrant children are more likely to report instances of being “kicked, hit, or pushed,” “bullied due to race,” “bullied due to religion,” “bullied by computer/email,” and “bullied by cell phone,” when compared to US-born children (Terzis 2018).
The experiences of students who participate Project Libertad’s newcomer after-school programs demonstrate how this anti-immigrant dynamic plays out as school violence locally. Project Libertad’s students, some as young as fifth grade, report physical violence, threats, and intimidation perpetrated against them by other youth because of their race and immigration status. Project Libertad students also report discrimination based on language. Spanish-speaking students report other students bullying them with comments like, “This is America, so speak English!” or “Build the wall!” Both teachers and students report “fight clubs,” in which large groups of students bully and physically attack other vulnerable students.
The violence doesn’t end with bullying — Immigrant youth are more likely to face violence and discrimination from police, School Resource Officers (“SROs”), and school security guards than their US-born peers. School security staff may unfairly discriminate against newcomer students due to cultural differences and implicit racial biases.
Meant to protect the campus from potential threats, SROs are not supposed to be involved in disciplining students unless an incident rises to the level of a criminal matter (ILRC 2018). However, schools with SROs are likely to have a greater level of law enforcement involvement and arrests of students than schools without SROs (ILRC 2018). Students in policed schools are criminalized for behaviors that may annoy adults but are a typical part of adolescent development; this dynamic can mean that a perceived school rule violation ends up being treated as a crime (ACLU 2017).
SROs and security guards lack proper training regarding the unique challenges and cultural backgrounds of newcomer students (ACLU 2017). There is no uniform training for SROs on how to work with youth and de-escalate school disruptions. Nor is there specialized training for working with immigrant youth, who face unique challenges (ACLU 2017). For example, newcomer students often have extensive trauma histories and frequently come from countries where the police are corrupt and untrustworthy, leading them to distrust SROs and school security guards. Prior trauma may lead students to act out disruptively, and a punitive response may escalate the situation further. It is common for trauma victims to experience more difficulty in punitive settings. SROs and security guards who do not understand the cultural and trauma histories of newcomer students may unfairly criminalize or stereotype them. Additionally, newcomer students may fear interacting with security staff, even when they themselves are victims of school violence. These conditions further marginalize vulnerable children, leading to even more violence against them.
Racial bias also frames these interactions between police, security staff, and immigrant students. Students of color are more likely to be viewed by SROs and guards as acting criminally and more likely to be charged and arrested than their white peers (ACLU 2017). Consistently, there is no evidence that racial disparities in discipline are the consequence of “differences in rates or types of misbehavior” by students of color and white students (ACLU 2017). Ultimately, SROs and security guards may be more likely to see criminal conduct in what others might consider normal teenage or adolescent behavior, and they are more likely to unjustly criminalize the actions of immigrant youth based on implicit racial biases.
Furthermore, as the Trump administration placed an increased emphasis on deporting alleged gang members or associates, new concerns about SROs and their relationship with local law enforcement arose with respect to surveillance of students and information sharing around gang investigations. For example, newcomer students may be wrongfully accused of gang affiliation because of their race, who they talk to at school, or even because of the clothing they wear (ILRC 2018). This unfair stereotyping and criminalization further marginalizes immigrant children and leads to even more violence against them, because they are unable to trust school security staff with their concerns about school violence.
The result of all this is an intensifying criminalization of immigrant students, which can have far-reaching consequences for immigrant youth. When SROs get involved in school discipline, youth may end up being arrested or charged for behavior that otherwise would have been handled by school staff. Even a simple arrest can negatively impact an immigrant child: the arrest will become part of the youth’s record whether or not they are ultimately charged. If the youth is charged in delinquency or criminal proceedings and is adjudicated or convicted of an offense, this will negatively impact their ability to apply for immigration status, and may even completely bar them from obtaining immigration status or cause them to lose their current legal status and be deported. Thus, what may have started out as self-defense or as a minor incident in school (or no incident at all), may lead to dire consequences for immigrant youth, even though it could have been handled without the involvement of law enforcement (ILRC 2018). This risk of deportation makes immigrant students even less likely to report instances of school violence and will lead to even more school violence as a result.
In its worst iterations, this phenomenon of police criminalizing youth of color leads to physical violence against students, as documented by the ACLU (ACLU 2017). Additionally, SROs often wrongfully charge students with crimes for defending themselves against their aggressors, treating both victim and aggressor as criminals, as in Ana’s case (ACLU 2017).
In the wake of Adam Toledo's tragic murder, Project Libertad remains committed to pursuing racial justice and equality for the students and families we work with, and we stand in solidarity with the family and loved ones of Adam Toledo in demanding justice for his murder.
PROJECT LIBERTAD PARTNERS WITH SONY MUSIC GROUP TO EMPOWER NEWCOMER IMMIGRANT YOUTH ACROSS PENNSYLVANIA
Project Libertad is a proud recipient of a corporate donation from the Sony Music Group Social Justice Fund.
FEBRUARY 1, 2021, PHOENIXVILLE, PA – Project Libertad is proud to announce a partnership with Sony Music Group, designed to support Project Libertad’s work with newcomer immigrant youth across Pennsylvania. Project Libertad is a proud recipient of a corporate donation from the Sony Music Group Social Justice Fund. This donation was made possible by the generosity of Sony Music Group, which has committed to aiding Project Libertad in its efforts to empower newcomer immigrant youth and their families by providing essential, youth-led and youth-centered legal and social services. Project Libertad envisions a world where all newcomer immigrant youth have access to the legal services, social services, academic support, and leadership opportunities needed to thrive.
WHAT HAS PRESIDENT BIDEN DONE ON IMMIGRATION SO FAR? ¿QUÉ HA HECHO EL PRESIDENTE BIDEN SOBRE INMIGRACIÓN HASTA AHORA? O QUE O PRESIDENTE BIDEN FEZ SOBRE A IMIGRAÇÃO ATÉ AGORA?
Here's what you need to know about President Biden's actions on immigration to date.
Esto es lo que necesita saber sobre las acciones del presidente Biden sobre inmigración hasta la fecha.
Aqui está o que você precisa saber sobre as ações do presidente Biden sobre a imigração até o momento.
Aqui está o que você precisa saber sobre o projeto de lei de reforma da imigração proposto pelo presidente Biden!
Esta postagem não tem como objetivo ser um conselho jurídico. Última atualização em 22/01/2021.
¡Esto es lo que usted necesita saber sobre el proyecto de ley de reforma migratoria propuesto por el presidente Biden!
Esta publicación no pretende ser un consejo legal. Última actualización 22/1/2021.
Here's what you need to know about President Biden's proposed immigration reform bill!
This post is not intended as legal advice. Last updated 1/22/2021.
Today's blog is a guest post from Fredy, one of our Peer Leaders and dedicated volunteers. Thank you, Fredy, for sharing your story with us!
My name is Fredy Portillo. My story begins in 1999, in Copan, a small town in Honduras. When I was a baby my parents abandoned me. I was raised by my grandmother. and my cousins. As I grew up, my life was normal. However, I was different from the children around me because I valued what little I had. I never considered myself special, but everyday people told me - especially my teachers - that I was unique because I was focused, responsible and God had a big purpose for my life.
I did not have a childhood of wonderful things. I never had toys. I never had expensive clothes. My aunt made a lot of my clothes for me. I was never the favorite nephew. I was always bullied in my family and in my school. They called me ugly and useless when I was little. They said that my education was a waste of time because I would never be anyone. But I had a dream to be “somebody” in life.
When I was nine years old, my grandmother died. She was the only family that I had. She was my protector - a superhero. Abuela was my role model. Before she died, I promised her that I would achieve my dreams because I would never give up. She was the only one who believed in me. Her death was the first loss that I felt. Her death was the first thing that marked my life. From that moment on, everything changed. I was alone. I always asked God why me? But what I did not know is that God was doing all these things in my life to make me strong and to become the person I am now.
I never left school despite the many obstacles in my way- especially my difficult financial situation. There were no opportunities for my cousin to make money in our small town. At the age of 12, I finished elementary school. Unfortunately, there was no Middle School for me to go to. I asked God every day to direct me in the best way. I had to make a big decision: Move away to another city so I could continue to study. Because I had to be independent, my life took a huge turn. I was a child trying to be an adult. I was living alone, I was without a family, I was without money. I had nothing - except the desire to overcome the situation of my life and the faith that everything would go well.
In 2016 my situation worsened. I did not have more money and the little money I had was gone. I needed to start looking for resources. This was very difficult, but God had planned my life, and his plans for me were not in Honduras.
Now, I ask you. What difficulties would you be willing to face to follow your dreams? Would you risk your life? Honduras is an extremely disadvantaged and dangerous country, but it was my destiny to be born and to grow up there. I consider myself to be a dreamer. While in Honduras, my dreams seemed impossible but I still held on to a greater dream: to obtain the best education, to reach my goals, and to overcome all the obstacles that kept me from achieving these goals. My life has not been an easy one. I have lived alone from the age of thirteen until the age of seventeen. This was devastating but taught me to look at life in a different way. I had to become an adult quickly and I had to attend the calling of taking ownership over my dreams at an early stage of my life.
When I saw that my future would not be the best in Honduras, I decided to escape. I made the most dangerous decision possible and with nothing to go back to. I decided to immigrate and seek asylum in the United States. I traveled in the worst way possible; I risked my life on the dangerous roads of Mexico and traveled with strangers to find safety and the opportunity of a new life in the United States. This life was where I could develop all of my potential, and become someone who can transform the world. I crossed the river between Mexico and the United States and walked for sixteen days, I slept in abandoned houses, and ate food that seemed more garbage than food. I risked my life because I believed that everything is possible and that we all can achieve a dream if we want it with all of our hearts.
Today, I can see that all the effort and suffering that I had to endure was worth it. I am finally in the United States, and God has provided me with a wonderful and true family, a wonderful school, and a great support system to achieve my dreams. Now, for the first time, I feel that I have a real life.
Now, my next step is to finish university to gain the knowledge to pursue my dream of being a great archaeologist. I want to show that immigrants are capable of achieving dreams. We are people, not criminals. Immigrants are strong, hard-working, and valuable parts of American society.
I got into seven great universities, I was very proud to say "Yes" to Cornell College in Iowa. Unfortunately, this year, COVID-19 appeared and ruined all my plans to save money and get my college education. My plan was to work and save during the summer, but with the beginning of the quarantine, I lost my job. For this reason, I am asking for your help today with all my heart.
I have a dream, my dream is to get my education. And today I ask you to be part of my dream.
My name is Patti Mallozzi, and my volunteer position at Project Libertad is as an Adult English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Phoenixville. Each week, I spend about 30 minutes before class preparing, and one-hour teaching in the evening. When I first started, I was positive that giving back to my community would impact others, but I had no idea how much it would impact me.
Throughout the sessions I love seeing my students’ English Proficiency develop, but more exciting is seeing their confidence grow. I enjoy getting to know each person individually and have even become friends with some of the students. Despite being busy, these dedicated adults make attending class a priority. The students are appreciative of my time and any little thing I do for them. They’re motivated and want to learn, which makes teaching easy and fun.
Project Libertad has several programs for migrants, immigrants and their families. I am grateful they provide free Adult ESL classes because once parents can communicate in English, they are better equipped to provide for themselves and their families, fostering independence and improving the quality of their lives. Volunteering with this amazing group has been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined.
In light of the appalling situation affecting the less vulnerable, I felt the obligation to help in any way possible. This is my first experience as a volunteer and it has been extremely rewarding as well as a humbling one.
I learned about Project Libertad by googling local volunteering opportunities. Their footprint in the Norristown and Phoenixville area schools provides multiple times / locations that fit my schedule.
They have a great program in place including simple, educational, and engaging activities every week. It requires very little time to prepare for the sessions, and you can count on additional support from other volunteers.
I have truly enjoyed my time meeting, helping, and learning from the kids. The kids have been fully engaged in the activities and have actively participated in the discussions, sharing beautiful stories about their family, friends, and culture.
Volunteering with Project Libertad supporting the after-school program has been a unique experience. Dedicating a little bit of my time has resulted in a lot of smiles and lasting memories. I highly recommend joining the Project Libertad team as a volunteer to give a hand to these kids and make their day a bit brighter.