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In 2018, the Florence Project responded to unprecedented attacks on the right of immigrants to seek asylum in the United States – a right guaranteed by both United States and international law.
Unlike defendants in criminal court proceedings, who are guaranteed free legal representation, detained immigrants do not have the right to a public defender. Without representation and access to legal education, most asylum-seekers will lose their cases and be returned to the conditions they fled. For some, this is a death sentence.
While last summer’s family separation crisis dominated the 2018 news cycle, it was just one element in a series of attacks that continue to undermine our clients’ ability to live freely and safely in the United States. Among these attacks were a February 2018 Supreme Court ruling (Jennings v. Rodriguez) that resulted in mandatory detention for thousands of immigrants, a unilateral decision (Matter of A-B) by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions that made claims relating to gang violence and domestic violence ineligible for asylum, and a recent proposal by the Trump Administration that would force asylum seekers to remain in Mexico as their claims are adjudicated.
These actions have had direct and dire consequences for our clients, many of whom are now ineligible for asylum or unable to attain legal representation as they remain indefinitely detained. The Matter of A-B has been particularly devastating for our clients. At the time of Attorney General Sessions’ decision, nearly 40% of the Florence Project’s ongoing asylum claims were related to domestic violence. As a direct consequence of A-B, many clients who won asylum prior to June 2018 would no longer qualify today. Consider, for example, the story of Katia [see Fall 2016 Newsletter], an indigenous woman from Nicaragua who fled her home after enduring extensive abuse at the hands of her husband, Orlin. Despite reporting the abuse to police, Orlin continued to beat Katia and her daughter without repercussion. Just before Katia fled to the United States, Orlin beat her daughter so severely that she died from her wounds. As a result of the Matter of A-B, individuals like Katia are no longer eligible for asylum in the United States.
Every day, the Florence Project works with women whose stories are similar to Katia’s. In many cases, these women come from countries where law enforcement officials are unable or unwilling to prosecute crimes of domestic violence, thus leaving them vulnerable to ongoing abuse. By declaring claims relating domestic violence and gang violence ineligible for asylum, Attorney General Sessions defied well-established legal precedent and imperiled the lives of detained immigrants with potentially valid asylum claims. Going forward, women like Katia will have limited avenues for legal relief and may be returned to the lethal conditions that drove them to leave their home countries.
The Florence Project fully expects the Trump Administration’s attacks on asylum seekers to continue into 2019. Indeed, our staff is already preparing to respond to the consequences of the Administration’s “Remain in Mexico” plan, announced at the end of 2018. Forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed in the United States will further restrict access to counsel in a system where nearly 90% of immigrants are already unrepresented in court proceedings. Moreover, it is a direct violation of U.S. law, which unambiguously guarantees the right of asylum seekers to wait safely in the United States pending completion of their cases.
We cannot overstate the devastating effects that continued restrictions on due process and asylum eligibility will have for thousands of immigrants seeking safety and refuge in the United States. Although we cannot predict what new and unprecedented policy decisions we will see in the upcoming months, the Florence Project will continue to advocate for justice in our immigration system and fight on behalf of our clients, who are strong, resilient individuals who inspire us every day.
For 30 years we have worked towards a legal system in which immigrants are treated fairly and humanely, and our work is as important now as ever before. It is easy to feel overwhelmed as an individual who disagrees with our government’s onslaught on the right to seek asylum but feels powerless to fight back. You too, however, can stand in solidarity with the Florence Project’s clients by staying educated and informed about rapidly changing policy. Injustice can only be perpetuated if it remains hidden from public view, tucked away where no one can see it. By being a microphone for our clients’ stories, you can make their voices heard and ensure that the right to seek asylum remains protected under U.S. law.
Click here to give to our humanist grants program, benefiting beneficiaries like the Florence Project.By Florence Immigrant and Refugee Right Project, Q1 Beneficiary Partner
14 Feb 2019
30 Jan 2019
The Tandana Foundation is our first quarter beneficiary in the category of Poverty and Health. They are currently supporting several projects, including a school for literacy among young mothers in Mali and environmental efforts to prevent deforestation in Ecuador.
Representatives recently reached out to us to let us know they've started ten new literacy classes for new women students in several new villages. There are currently thirty women in each new class. These classes begin with the pretest to assess each woman's knowledge, and then they begin to study their first letters and numbers.
The student mothers program supports girls from rural villages who are living in the town of Bandiagara so they can attend middle school. They have to find families to host them, and if they get pregnant, the families usually send them back to their villages and they have to drop out of school. This program provides training for the families to explain that they can still host the students even if they are young mothers. It also provides food and basic medical supplies for the babies, so they are not an extra cost to the families. It helps girls stay in school despite the challenges of motherhood.
"I can’t even name all the advantages of this support, because they are numerous and have helped me a lot. . . . Learning has become easier at school. Thanks to this support, I haven’t been late or missed class because I had to nurse my baby. The parents I live with take better care of my baby. Thanks to your support, I passed from 8th grade into 9th grade.”
– Mariam Doumbo, student mother
We're so honored to support The Tandana Foundation in this vital work. To support our Humanist Grants program, click here.By FBB
There is a cautionary tale that frequently surfaces in discussions about international aid. Women from a particular village walk miles to the river to do laundry despite the donation of a laundry trough circling the village’s water tank. The organization that donated the washing station failed to realize that laundry time serves another function: women-only social time. The laundry trough in the village didn’t offer the women the same respite from men, and the women couldn’t chat with each other around the tank as easily as they could at the river.
I believe that a Humanist Service Corps volunteer could have helped the international aid organization tell a success story instead of a cautionary tale. By observing the women, doing laundry with them, learning from them about their needs, and including them as essential, leading members of the problem-solving team, the HSC volunteer could have helped the locals and the international aid organization co-design a sustainable solution. In a nutshell, this is the kind of work that the HSC does, and this is the kind of engagement HSC asks of its volunteers.
What makes this kind of volunteering rare, and why is it so important?
Sustainable, effective, culturally-responsible volunteering is rare because it’s difficult and time-consuming to build the necessary relationships. Many international volunteering programs don’t see the cross-cultural relationships as an essential part of the mission. The relationships may benefit the volunteers, sure, but the volunteers are already guaranteed to benefit from the experience and cross-cultural relationships aren’t part of the benefit promised to the locals.
It is understandable that volunteers would be concerned about maximizing their impact and might even feel a little guilty hanging out with the locals. After all, international volunteering opportunities often exist only because of global inequalities created by the very countries volunteers are from. When volunteers spend time building relationships, aren’t they selfishly wasting time that they should be spending on improving lives?
No. Emphatically no. Volunteers only perpetuate oppression when they focus on their personal impact to the exclusion of all else. One of the tragically ironic consequences of imperialism is that the exploited are seen as having nothing to offer, even as they are still being plundered. It is a revolutionary act for a volunteer to acknowledge and embrace the benefits they receive when they adapt to another culture. Moreover, when volunteers are focused primarily on changing the environment, they often miss the opportunity to be changed by it. That missed growth is a profound loss, because learning and adapting to the local environment by building real, reciprocal relationships is the key to implementing sustainable solutions as well as the most rewarding aspect of the volunteering experience.
There is a strong positive correlation, not a zero-sum relationship, between the benefits that a volunteer receives and gives. The kind of volunteer work that is most rewarding for volunteers - cross-cultural learning and relationship-building - is also the kind of volunteer work that leads to sustainable solutions. Thus, the only way to serve responsibly and effectively is to embrace the selfishness inherent in service. When we see every interaction not as an opportunity to teach or to give but rather as a chance to learn and receive, only then do we come to understand what strategies are appropriate for the cultural context. If you can see the beauty in that paradox, then I invite you to apply for the 2019 Humanist Service Corps.
To apply fill out the application form and attach a cover letter and your resume. Your cover letter should include why you are interested in volunteering with HSC, a summary of your service, and a summary of your international experience. Your cover letter should be no more than one (1) page, single-space, 11 point font.
Applications must be submitted by January 15th, 2019. All applicants must be 18 or older and available from July 2019 to July 2020.
Learn more here.
By Conor Robinson