by Tatiana Mahoney
Did you know that you can be a legal resident and still be in danger of being deported? The current administration is following the immigration law to the letter. It doesn’t matter if someone has paid the penalty for a crime from long ago or if they did something foolish, like jumping the turnstile at the train station – if they are in the system they are now at risk. There is no guarantee of due process. An individual story or circumstance may not alter the outcome. The time of grace has ended, and it is giving some families cause for concern.
“I am afraid for my life if I go back,” said one Exodus mom. Some of our families fled from places like El Salvador and Mexico, where guerrilla soldiers and gangs rule in the small towns they came from. We also have families from the Dominican Republic and Ecuador seeking an opportunity to work hard and better their lives.
“I was told if I had children and stayed for 10 years I was able to legally stay,” explained another parent. Sadly, there are unscrupulous people posing as lawyers, who prey on families in distress, passing out false information and getting paid to do so.
We are seeing and hearing anxiety in the kids who attend Exodus, many not truly understanding whether their parents or family members are at risk. Very few Exodus families have reason for concern, however, the Parent Advisory Board thought it was important to offer resources and accurate information to the community.
Angelica, a member of our Parent Advisory board, discovered that the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights (NMCIR) could be a great resource of information. “I cannot go to their workshop because I am working,” she told me, “but if you go, this would be very good for our families.” And so, I went.
I also attended a second workshop hosted by New York State Senator Marisol Alcantara.
I also reached out to Open Hands Legal Services, NMCIR, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation and other agencies to see if they could send a lawyer to our program, but as they are in such high demand the earliest anyone could come was in April. As I prayed, God brought Sulia to mind, the mom of one of my high school interns. Sulia works for the ACACIA Network, a non-profit that helps low income families find housing. And as it turns out she was able to recommend an immigration lawyer who had helped out at ACACIA, Fermin Soler.
So, on March 10, during an Exodus Parent Workshop, Mr. Soler, met one-on-one, in private, with any family that had questions. This was the right solution for us. “I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my story in front of everybody,” said one mom. These private meetings were a safe place to get information and reliable advice for free. The sentiment shared by the families who were helped? They agreed that it is not easy to share your story if you feel judged. For Exodus it was a privilege to offer the kind of help our families need, and offer it with dignity and grace.
So what are the next steps? “I need to find a legal guardian for the children and do all the paperwork to give that person a power of attorney,” said one parent. “I have my bags packed… just in case,” said another. “Pray,” asked a third parent. So we shall, and we invite you to join us.
If you would like to know more about how to help families at Operation Exodus who may be facing immigration issues please contact our parent coordinator Tatiana Mahoney or visit our summer program page, and find out how you can donate the gift of a great, safe summer to a family in need.