Safe Passages arranges food distribution for 120 immigrant families. Families also receive immigration information, legal information, and referrals, such as rental assistance programs, COVID-19 vaccination details, and parenting resources. Credit: Safe Passages


Stanford, Jul 18 2022 (IPS) - Veronica Vega’s husband was the first in the family to immigrate to Oakland, California. When 27 years ago Vega decided to join him, she was five months pregnant and walked across the Mexican border to come to the United States.

“It was a horrible experience. It was so sad to leave your country, your town, and your family behind. Everything was different – the country, the language, the community. That’s why I looked around to find somewhere I could belong,” Vega reflected.

She discovered Safe Passages, an organization that supports youth and families by providing enhanced services and community development through various programs. Vega no longer felt alone.

Now, Vega is the Community Development Manager at Safe Passages, and she assists other immigrants in getting the help they need to integrate into US society successfully.

Vega tells of a success story. She helped a family from Tijuana, Mexico, receive their acceptance to the renowned Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA is an immigration policy that provides immigrants who came to the US as a child a work permit and a two-year period to reside in the country without facing deportation. After two years, immigrants need to submit a renewal application for DACA. US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) allows renewal subject to requirements.

The mother of two fled from Mexico to California because she faced domestic violence from her husband. She and her children contacted Safe Passages, where they met Vega.

Safe Passages serves about 5,000 families annually. One of their programs focuses on helping children who may face deportation due to their refugee status. Vega connected this family to one of their partners, East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC).

A private lawyer through EBCLC helped them receive their permanent residencies, and the service they received was free.

“When I heard they were considered permanent residents of the United States, I was so happy. They never realized they would receive anything, and I was so happy,” Vega said.

Vega helps families who fear deportation. She aids about 1,500 families per year with immigration resources.

She wants to partner with more non-profit organizations to help immigrant families.

“I was accepted into this country, and I love to work in the community. I love to help people regardless of race, age, and status,” Vega explained.

Alicia Perez, Chief Operating Officer of Safe Passages, described how the different programs at Safe Passages interconnect.

Safe Passages aims to support families with children with a big focus on school-based programs. They have after-school and tutoring programs, family resources, and health centers. Safe Passages makes the information accessible by ensuring materials are in the migrants’ home languages – informing them about their civil rights.

The organization provides immigrant families with Red Cards created by the immigrant Legal Resource Center. The Red Card informs families about their rights under the US Constitution, whether they are immigrants or not. Safe Passages asks families to carry their Red Cards in case they are stopped by law enforcement or the police.

“We believe all children should have access to education, health care, and support. By doing so, they are most likely to live fulfilling lives and be successful, regardless of race, economic status, ethnicity, or gender,” Perez said.

Refugee Processing Center’s Refugee Admission Report releases data on the number of refugee arrivals. California had the highest refugee arrivals from October 1, 2021, through May 31, 2022, with 1,128 people arriving in the state.

Florencia Reyes Donohue, a senior paralegal in Kids in Need of Defense’s (KIND) San Francisco office, helps prepare and file forms for unaccompanied child clients seeking protection in the US.

KIND’s mission is to ensure that no child goes into immigration court without high-quality legal representation and that unaccompanied children have access to the protection they need and deserve. The organization partners with pro bono attorneys from more than 700 law firms and corporations to represent clients at no cost.

KIND worked with 29,000 children from 2009 to 2021. In addition to legal services, they provide holistic care through its social services program. KIND ensured that children would have an easier time adjusting to a country they were unfamiliar with by addressing their traumas. KIND offers counseling referrals, social-emotional support, health insurance assistance, school enrollment, and job placements, among other services.

Reyes Donohue said she admired the bravery the children she worked with had. “They do this journey alone; they are incredibly resilient.”

Fathers attend their kids’ soccer team practices and Safe Passages’ parenting workshops. Safe Passages provides immigration information, parenting workshops, and referrals during these practices. Credit: Safe Passages

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