In honor of AmeriCorps Week, we here at Safe Passage Project would like to commemorate the extraordinary service provided by our justice AmeriCorps members. justice AmeriCorps is the newest collaboration between the Corporation of National and Comminuty Service (CNCS) and the Department of Justice. justice AmeriCorps enrolls lawyers and paralegals to provide legal services through various non-profit organizations such as Safe Passage Project.
In June of 2014, the White House announced this new collaborative effort in order to address the real humanitarian crisis, when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors were presenting themselves at the southern U.S. border.
While Congress has not appropriated funds to create a formal public defender system in immigration courts throughout the U.S., the Department of Justice realized that with CNCS help it could bring law fellows and paralegals into the AmeriCorps program to fill this service gap. The new initiative has twin goals of mobilizing and supporting the pro bono work of independent counsel and helping the immigration courts handle young children’s cases by having a trained legal advocate available to represent them.
For Safe Passage Project, joining the justice Americorps program was a natural fit, as we already recruit, train, and mentor pro bono representation of children in immigration court proceedings. We are in our second year of hosting justice Americorps team members serving immigrant youth. They have made a real different in children’s lives.
Through their justice AmeriCorps position, many of our fellows and paralegals have gained an enriching experience working closely with clients. We asked them to reflect on what service with justice Americorps means to them.
“I’ve really appreciated my justice AmeriCorps experience. I completed a full year, and in that year I’ve obtained a green card for three young siblings. This was one of my greatest and most fulfilling moments, knowing that I was able to help these children in such a significant way. I’ve also spoken at press conferences, spoken on Univision where I was able to discuss the importance of volunteers, and presented at the National justice AmeriCorps training. This was all possible because of justice AmeriCorps. Without justice AmeriCorps, Safe Passage Project would not be able to assist children in Long Island, where resources are so limited”.
- Luisa Lebron, justice AmeriCorps Legal Fellow
“I’ve recently became a justice AmeriCorps legal fellow, and in that short time, I’ve been able to see the difference it can make in a child’s life. I accompanied a child to the Suffolk County Family Court and was able to attain a Special Findings Order and a custody order that would put the child in the path of obtaining legal permanent residence in the U.S. and stay with her family. Additionally, I’ve also seen all the resources that have been made available to me by becoming a justice AmeriCorps fellow, whether it is at my placement with Jadeja Cimone, meeting with immigration judges, or speaking with government officials. I am thankful to justice AmeriCorps for giving me the resources and opportunity to make an impact in someone’s life.”
- Juan Carlos Chiquillo, justice AmeriCorps – Jadeja Cimone Legal Fellow
“Working with Safe Passage has been an invaluable experience. Throughout my year as a paralegal, I worked with many children who are seeking stability, safety and well-being. They want to go to school, receive health care and to continue living with their families. With justice AmeriCorps’ help and funding, we have been able to help many of our children and put them well on their way to obtain legal status. This has been an extremely rewarding for me because I saw myself as making a difference in those kids’ lives and also as a catalyst for making greater changes in more children’s lives. I am thankful to the justice AmeriCorps program for giving me the opportunity to help children and for confirming that I want to become an immigration attorney.”
- Carlos Valenzuela, Former justice AmeriCorps Paralegal
“The service I do at Safe Passage Project is such a rewarding experience. It’s a great feeling to know that I am a part of this dedicated team…, going to court and assisting on both the Juveniles and Surge Dockets, assisting attorneys, serving as an interpreter in meetings and in an asylum interview, etc., these are just a few ways I have served this vulnerable population.”
- Elizabeth Rivera, Justice AmeriCorps Paralegal
“It’s been inspiring to see attorneys, including the attorneys that work full time at Safe Passage want to contribute so much to the organization, and give so much to the children… The justice AmeriCorps training was a great experience for me, a non-lawyer, for the same reason. The community of AmeriCorps attorneys has that flaming desire to help the clients, and each other.”
- Charlotte Fager, justice AmeriCorps Paralegal
Safe Passage Project is happy to be a placement site for justice AmeriCorps, and to have participated in the National justice AmeriCorps Trainings. We look forward to an ongoing partnership and welcoming future fellows.