Responding to the Family Separation Crisis in Arizona

The Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project provides free legal and social services to detained adults and unaccompanied children facing immigration removal proceedings in Arizona. It seeks to ensure that all immigrants facing removal have access to counsel, understand their rights under the law, and are treated fairly and humanely. Thanks in part to support from Voqal, the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project gives much-needed support to immigrant children and teens who have been forcibly separated from their parents.

Prior to May 2018, the Florence Project Children’s Program primarily worked with abandoned, abused, or neglected youth that had made the decision to seek safety in the United States. Almost overnight, following the onset of family separation, its attorneys, legal assistants, and social workers found themselves doing their best to interview traumatized toddlers and, in some cases, even represent babies in court. Florence Project social workers mobilized to train legal service providers on working with “tender age” children — those under the age of 12 — and on working those experiencing trauma. By employing its expertise to design strategy around serving the tender age shelter, it has helped legal staff meet the particular needs of the infants and toddlers in government custody.

This work has led to positive results for real people. People like Diego. Diego and his mother fled violence in Central America and were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. After falling asleep in the holding cell, Diego awoke in the morning to find that his mother had been taken away in the middle of the night. Diego didn’t hear the pounding on the door or his mother’s shouting, because he is deaf and mute. Diego’s mother told the authorities this. Terrified, Diego was detained in Arizona while his mother was detained in a facility in Colorado.

Fortunately, the Florence Project staff met Diego and went to great lengths to communicate with him through gestures and the skilled help of deaf/mute interpreters. Thanks to its advocacy, after nearly a month of excruciating separation, Diego and his mother were able to video conference with each other and were eventually released from detention. They are now with family in Florida where Diego is enrolled in a special school for deaf children.

The support the Florence Project offers to children and teens like Diego is vital in the face of short-sighted immigration policies. At Voqal we believe in true social equity for all humans, immigrant and otherwise, and are proud to support the work of organizations like the Florence Project to ensure fundamental human rights for those seeking a life in the United States.