For Immediate Release: September 16, 2021

Carolina Gamero

As Senators Renew Push for Immigration Relief via Budget Reconciliation, Hispanic Federation Launches National Legal Aid Coalition

Powerhouse coalition to provide direct legal representation to immigrants, helping to close the gap of services for those who urgently need counsel

NEW YORK — Hispanic Federation (HF) today launched Caminos de Esperanza, a $1 million initiative that will directly support eleven non-profit immigration organizations across the country to meet the escalating demand for legal aid. With a ballooning backlog of immigration cases, and on the heels of congressional lawmakers’ renewed push to include a pathway to permanent residency via budget reconciliation, the stakes for immigration counsel have never been higher.

By funding a targeted and powerful coalition of immigration service providers, the Hispanic Federation seeks to expand access to legal assistance for some of the most vulnerable immigrants and help keep families united.

“Immigration courts put an undue burden on immigrants seeking relief from deportation or who are at risk of violence and death in their countries of origin. Every day that passes without the critical support of a legal advocate by their side is another day they may get ripped away from their communities, from loved ones,” said Frankie Miranda, President and CEO, Hispanic Federation. “We are creating the greatest local impact in our communities through trustworthy, timely, and effective legal aid so that families stay together and continue to prosper in the country they call home.”

Immigrants rely on legal counsel to navigate their immigration cases and apply for existing pathways for relief, however immigrant legal representation is chronically underfunded and under-resourced. Furthermore, people in immigration proceedings do not have the right to a government-funded attorney. As a result, many immigrants are deported, separated from their families, or forced to return to dangerous conditions in their countries of origin.

In its first year, Caminos de Esperanza is expected to provide screenings and direct legal representation across New York, Florida, Connecticut, North Carolina, New Jersey, Texas, Arizona, D.C./Maryland/Virginia, and California where coalition members are on the ground and where the need is highest. Each grantee will receive up to $100,000 to bring comprehensive legal assistance through existing pathways to immigrants seeking asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status, as well as relief from removal proceedings. These efforts, which coalition members have undertaken for years, help to close a critical gap in legal counsel for immigrants. Without these services, immigrants who cannot afford legal representation would have no other choice but to self-represent in court, leaving them at a great risk of being permanently separated from their families or held indefinitely in immigration detention centers, where lack of safeguards from the widespread Delta variant make them COVID hotspots.

The Hispanic Federation is the nation’s premier Latino non-profit organization providing on-the-ground support to Latino communities through health, economic empowerment, and immigration assistance initiatives. Hispanic Federation selected culturally sensitive grantees with deep ties in the immigrant community and unique program models to increase chances of successful petitions for asylum, provide a path to citizenship for migrant children, and help families in the U.S. stay together without having to fear deportation.

The Caminos de Esperanza coalition provides immigration assistance to states based on the highest need, factoring in states that have high pending numbers of immigration cases and lower rates of attorney representation. For example, according to a TRAC Immigration report, North Carolina, the 10th leading state on pending deportations, comes last in legal representation, making individuals who go through immigration court in North Carolina disproportionately less likely to have an attorney or representation. Furthermore, the odds of being successful with an asylum application if unrepresented are close to 18% compared to 31% for represented asylum seekers in 2020. This does not factor in immigrants who wanted to seek asylum but were precluded from doing so because—without an attorney—they were also unable to fill out the necessary asylum paperwork to even apply.

Caminos de Esperanza is also helping address the demand for legal aid that exploded after 18,700 unaccompanied children and teenagers were taken into custody in March 2021. This amounts to nearly double the 9,450 minors detained in February 2021 and four times higher than during the same period in 2020.

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“Militarized immigration enforcement is a constant reality in our border community. The need for pro-bono and low-cost immigration legal services in Arizona is ever present and increases by the day. This grant provides us with the capacity to save immigrant families from indefinite separation, allowing them to continue to contribute to our local community. Through this funding we will be able to defend low-income immigrants that are in detention or in removal proceedings, asylum seekers, and especially vulnerable children. We are honored to work in partnership with the Hispanic Federation in ensuring that immigrant families in our communities stay together and that every migrant served through this program has a real chance of staying in this country,” said Alba Jaramillo, Executive Director of Arizona Justice For Our Neighbors.

“Obtaining lawful immigration status is a key that opens doors to help immigrants achieve safety, financial security and stability. Many immigrants have viable pathways to lawful immigration status and U.S. citizenship but lack the means of accessing legal representation to help them identify available immigration benefits, navigate the complex bureaucracy that controls access to immigration benefits, and present their cases successfully. Ayuda applauds the Hispanic Federation’s Camino de Esperanza initiative for funding this very important work. This generous grant from the Hispanic Federation will enable Ayuda to expand our capacity to provide our in-depth consultations and long-term legal representation to address the urgent needs of residents in DC, Maryland and Virginia for high-quality immigration legal representation,” said Paula Fitzgerald, Executive Director, Ayuda.

“The Carolina Migrant Network is grateful to be part of the Caminos de Esperanza initiative to continue its mission of providing legal representation to immigrants detained and in removal proceedings. We are excited to increase the representation of families in removal proceedings before the Charlotte Immigration court known for its disparagingly low representation and approval ratings,” said Stefania Arteaga, Co-Director, Carolina Migrant Network.

"The unmitigated representation crisis on Long Island leaves thousands of immigrant children and families without attorneys. Because access to counsel is the single greatest determinant in an immigrant's ability to remain safely in the United States, this means that immigrants are being deported every day, some to their deaths, solely because they could not find a lawyer. Through Hispanic Federation's Caminos de Esperanza initiative, CARECEN will provide life-saving legal representation to Long Island's most vulnerable immigrants, giving them, as its name promises, a reason to hope," said Elise de Castillo, Esq., Executive Director, Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN).

“The Charlotte immigration court is on the ‘top ten’ list for courts that are most likely to deport noncitizens. As of July 2021, the odds that a non-citizen will be deported in the Charlotte immigration court is 45.3%. By contrast, the likelihood that a noncitizen will be deported nationally is 34.1%. The paltry rate of legal representation in the Charlotte immigration court--22.5% of respondents are represented compared to representation rates well in excess of 50% in other immigration courts--has a lot to do with this. The generous funding provided by Caminos de Esperanza will empower our attorneys and staff to push back against broadscale, indiscriminate deportation and keep our families and communities intact,” said Kenneth Schorr, Executive Director, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.

"It is with gratitude and a sense of hope for a better tomorrow for immigrant families that we join the Hispanic Federation in this project and look forward to a strong partnership providing key, life-changing legal immigration services for our community. As we continue our 35-year old fight for immigration justice, it is necessary to strengthen the accessible service network to immigrants facing the myriad of challenges presented by the unjust immigration system, and this grant helps us do exactly that," said Angelica Salas, Executive Director, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA).

“Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants is grateful to participate in Hispanic Federation’s Caminos de Esperanza. This grant leverages CIRI’s expertise to expand low- and pro-bono immigration legal services to adults and youth seeking asylum, including unaccompanied children and survivors of certain crimes. Securing affordable and impactful immigration legal services is paramount for immigrants to secure stability and continue to contribute to the cultural and economic fabric of our communities,” said Susan Schnitzer, Executive Director, Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants (CIRI).

“In response to harsh and ever-changing immigration policies that often upend rather than uplift our community, we often hear the phrase ‘la esperanza es lo último que se pierde’ or ‘hope is the last thing you lose.’ At the Coalition for Immigrant Freedom, we help families transform hope into action through legal representation, and we stand with them as they fight for freedom and family unity. The Caminos de Esperanza initiative revolutionizes an old meaning of hope as 'a feeling of trust’ by enabling us to help others hope wisely,” said Alba Lucero Villa, Executive Director, Coalition for Immigrant Freedom.

“Our partnership with the Hispanic Federation is truly invaluable, they understand our mission to serve and empower immigrants and refugees. We are excited to join Caminos de Esperanza so that we may continue our work with vulnerable populations, empowering them to start new and better lives in the United States. Everyone is deserving of the American dream,” said Linda Rivas, Executive Director, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.

“Over the years, we have relentlessly organized and worked to provide direct services to protect our most vulnerable New Yorkers. We are grateful for the Hispanic Federation’s support through the Caminos de Esperanza initiative that will help us meet these demanding times and allow us to provide critical legal assistance for immigrants. While we continue to call on Congress to finally create long-lasting immigration relief, through this partnership we will help families in New York City and Westchester County who are in dire need of legal representation in their removal proceedings,” said Sienna Fontaine, Legal Director of Make the Road New York.

"It breaks my heart to see people go unrepresented in court, especially children who are here alone. This initiative will help us answer simple questions, direct people to the correct information and give our communities a hand in navigating the complex asylum and immigration system,” said Melissa Marantes, Esq., Executive Director of Orlando Center for Justice (OCJ).