By Katie Bazyluk
Safe Passages, an Oakland-based nonprofit, is doubling its efforts to serve immigrant families in light of the federal administration’s recent attacks on immigrants and subsequent policy reversals—including the DREAMERS protected by President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy and the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) of many countries. These efforts include launching a new program designed to provide students and their families with information about their constitutional rights—regardless of residency status—called The Immigrant Outreach and Education Project.
In order to support the many DREAMERS and other immigrant families in the Bay Area, Safe Passages has partnered with a group of advocates and legal agencies throughout the region and California to provide outreach, education, and referral to free or low cost legal services for immigrant communities.
Safe Passages CEO Josefina Alvarado-Mena explained that the new program is vitally important because “it is essential for all individuals living in this country to not only fully understand their constitutional rights, but also be equipped and prepared to use them to preserve their freedom. Moreover, as social justice advocates, we have a duty to protect our youth and vulnerable community members.”
The project’s outreach team is available to conduct workshops at local schools and organizations about pathways to citizenship, naturalization, and legal residency (including DACA, TPS, and other visas). Safe Passages has also developed workshops designed specifically for immigrant youth who attend school in the United States, in addition to “Family Preparedness” trainings that help parents create a plan for their children in the case of deportation.
Alicia Perez, the project manager at Safe Passages, is especially committed to educating youth, explaining, “It is critical to help students understand what their current status is, what their rights are, the various pathways to permanent residency or citizenship, and the benefits of those pathways.” She continues, saying, “Immigrant youth have a right to an education regardless of status, and although there may be obstacles, there are also solutions—many scholarships and various forms of financial aid are available to them. I don’t want any students to feel discouraged that they can’t pursue their education because of their status.”
Safe Passages has been working with Alameda County’s most disadvantaged communities for over 21 years; approximately 50 percent of the 4,000 individuals and families they serve every year through community and school-based programs are immigrants. Safe Passages is also uniquely positioned in Oakland and the East Bay to connect with these hard-to-reach target populations because most staff members come from the same communities as immigrant families and mirror their demographics and experiences; which has allowed Safe
Passages to gain and sustain tremendous trust within these communities. All staff members involved in the implementation of The Immigrant Outreach and Education Project already have relationships with these communities, understand their culture, speak their language, and have high levels of cultural-competency and situational sensitivity.
The Immigrant Outreach and Education Project team is currently accepting requests to provide workshops and trainings. The outreach team has also made themselves available to provide private workshops or speak with families individually if they are not comfortable attending a public event.
Funding for the project is provided by the Immigration Services Unit of the State of California Health and Human Services Agency Department of Social Services.
To schedule a workshop contact Veronica Vega at [email protected]epassages.org.
To volunteer, refer an agency, or make a donation, please contact Alicia Perez at [email protected].
For more information about Safe Passages visit www.safepassages.org.