Dear friends and colleagues,
Today is International Migrants Day, a day to reflect on the over 60 million people around the globe who are displaced by war, conflict, drought, and persecution. And while we remember refugees around the world today, we must consider that there is a refugee crisis happening at our southern border. It is this refugee crisis that has compelled us to create a new type of organization dedicated to helping and protecting these refugees: Voices in Action America (VIAA). VIAA will provide integrated community help and support, as well as legal services, specifically for the refugee mothers and children who have been detained or imprisoned by our government on our southern border as part of the American refugee crisis.
For over two years, the United States government has imprisoned mothers and children fleeing unprecedented levels of violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. While most of these families leave detention after approximately three weeks, some have been detained for nearly two years. You can read their stories on the Berks Advent Tumblr.
But once they are released, a new set of challenges awaits them. These mothers and children are placed on fast tracked deportation proceedings. They are not given lawyers, so they are forced to navigate our byzantine immigration court system on their own, and in a language they cannot understand. They are not allowed to work, so they cannot provide even basic necessities for themselves and their children. They become dependent on others, which forces them into a cycle of poverty and, often, violence.
But today, on International Migrants Day, we are taking a first step to stopping that cycle.
Voices In Action in America (VIAA) will provide legal services and community support to enable these refugee mothers and children to thrive in their new home: New York, with the goal of one day enabling them to introduce their own voices into the national debate on immigration. We will do this, starting in the coming weeks, with a pilot program of five women and children who have recently arrived in New York. VIAA will:
- Provide each woman with an attorney free of charge (pro bono attorneys to start, and a combination of staff attorneys and law students farther down the road);
- Pair each woman with a community member volunteer who will serve as a guide, help them to adapt to their new community, and direct them towards available support services, including English classes and vocational training;
- Provide leadership trainings to help our clients find their voices; and
- Host monthly pot lucks, cultural outings, and other events to foster a sense of community between the women and children, the volunteers and the wider VIAA community.
Our hope is that VIAA will not only provide much-needed services, but create new spokespersons for immigration reform – not just of our clients , but also of the every-day New Yorker volunteers who will learn about the realities of our existing system – and that they will act as force multipliers by going back into their communities and advocating for better policies and laws. Our ultimate goal is to help shift the conversation on immigration to one that is productive, cognizant of the economic, cultural, and societal contributions of immigrants, and most importantly, one that more closely aligns itself with American values of hospitality, generosity, and protection of the vulnerable.
Throughout 2017, we will seek financial support to grow VIAA so that we can grow beyond our pilot program in both clients and services.
We hope that you will join us in this battle! If you are interested in following our progress, please sign up for our mailing list on our website: www.viaaonline.org.
Here’s to looking to a more positive and just 2017!
The VIAA Team
Camille Mackler & Carmen Maria Rey (co-founders)
Susan Timmons Marks