Supporting our Immigrant Families

Children at our centers benefit from the multiculturalism celebrated in our classrooms.

Children at our centers benefit from the multiculturalism celebrated in our classrooms.

ECMHSP is proud to serve America’s farmworker families, a challenging task that we have lovingly undertaken for more than 35 years.  Many of these farmworker families immigrated to the United States, bringing with them their rich cultures, languages, and beautiful traditions that are passed down to their children.  The children enrolled in our Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program benefit greatly from the multiculturalism that is celebrated in our classrooms and in our communities.

However, in recent weeks, this country’s immigrant community has been facing much uncertainty and fear.  The looming threat of deportation weighs heavy on their minds, especially in families with loved ones that are undocumented.  Like every family, they want to remain together.

Yesterday, the quarterly magazine, Modern Farmer, shared the story of Rosa Garcia and her family.  The article carefully examines the effects the new immigration enforcement policies can potentially have on American farming and the farmworker families that provide us with a secure source of fresh fruits and vegetables.  It also discusses the challenges Rosa’s family is facing to try to stay together.

As Rosa’s father, Hector, shares, “We didn’t come here to take anyone’s jobs away.  We came to escape the poverty that we have in our country and to provide our children with a better future.  We are doing work that most Americans are not willing to do.”

Farmworkers enroll their children for Head Start services at the Field of Dreams center.

A farmworker parent enrolls her child at a ECMHSP Head Start center.

ECMHSP opens its center doors to families just like Rosa’s every day.  Our organization knows it is critical for the families we serve to be informed with accurate information regarding immigration, especially when they are making decisions that can impact their family’s safety and well-being.  In response to requests from parents at the centers, ECMHSP has developed collaborative partnerships with immigration advocates to ensure we are bringing the most up-to-date information to our families.  Resource guides are under development, guest speakers are presenting at parent meetings, and materials are being distributed to our families through our centers.  We will continue to provide our families with the support they ask of us.

In this time of uncertainty, ECMHSP stands by our farmworker families. Each day at our centers, we see the resiliency and strength of our farmworker families, and most importantly, the deep and unconditional love they have for their families.

All families deserve to stay together.

Maria’s Excellent Adventure

Maria was one of the first farmworkers to apply for DACA, which would allow her to travel outside of the U.S. with Advanced Parole.

Maria was one of the first farmworkers to apply for DACA, which would allow her to travel outside of the U.S. with Advance Parole.

Twenty-three-year-old Maria Sanchez Martinez is the former Vice President of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s Policy Council. In August of 2012, she was one of the first farmworkers to submit an application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which has allowed her to lawfully work in the U.S. and consequently, has improved the her life and the life of her family dramatically. Since then, she has twice renewed her DACA eligibility.

On October 25, 2016, Maria was able to travel home to Mexico on Advance Parole to visit her ailing grandfather. It was the first time she had seen her grandfather and her extended family since coming to the United States 14 years ago.   We recently were able to chat with Maria about her excellent adventure.

When did you find out that your application for Advance Parole was approved and how did it make you feel?

With the help of John Menditto (General Counsel at ECMHSP), I submitted my Advance Parole application to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in June of 2016. The application process required us to establish my family relationship to my grandfather and to provide a letter from his medical doctor regarding his health. USCIS approved my application on September 26 but they only permitted me to travel for thirty days (until October 26) and they failed to send me my travel document. John had to contact USCIS and had them re-issue the travel document and ask them to extend the travel period.   USCIS extended the travel period, but only for an additional five days.

When John told me my application was approved I was excited, yet nervous. I also was disappointed at the short-notice and turnaround time.

Tell us about your travel plans.  How did you get from Florence, South Carolina, to the village in Mexico where you lived until you were nine years old?

I immediately made flight reservations, which were very costly due to the short time to make the reservations. I drove from Florence to Orlando, Florida, which was seven hours of driving. I then flew from Orlando to Mexico City and then waited overnight in the airport to fly to Veracruz. My aunt, Dulce Maria Hernandez Pavon, and my uncle met me at the airport. We drove to my village Villa Cuitlahuac, which was 90 minutes away.

Maria's flight from Florida to Mexico on Advanced Parole.

On Advance Parole, Maria flew from Florida to her small village in Mexico.

Did anyone travel with you?  If so, why did they come along?

I brought three children with me — my two sons, Jovany Sanchez Arroyo age 6, Martin Sanchez Arroyo age 8, and my younger sister, Vicenta Sanchez, age 11. They are all United States citizens, but none of them had ever met any family members in Mexico. I brought them because I did not know if we’d ever be able to see our family in Mexico.

Tell us about seeing your family?  What did you feel?

Seeing my family after almost 15 long years was the moment that I won’t change for anything. Tears of happiness fell from my eyes and from my family’s eyes. Words can’t describe how my heartfelt to see all of my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. It was the best reunion I have ever had.

Describe a favorite memory about your trip.

When I went back to my childhood home and I found a toy rabbit I used to play with when I lived in the village at the age of nine.

Your Advanced Parole was issued because you were visiting your ill grandfather, can you share with us how he is doing?

Through the help of ECMHSP, Maria applied for Advanced Parole to visit her ailing grandfather.

Through the help of ECMHSP, Maria applied for Advance Parole that allowed her to visit her ailing grandfather.

He had several health issues including heart problems. He has been hospitalized several times due to his health from the time I requested the Advance Parole until now. At this time, he is stable, but I was happy that I was able to be with him and help care for him.

What was it like coming back through Border Patrol and Customs after you landed at the airport in the United States?

I was very, very nervous. I went through Border Control at the airport in Houston, Texas. I was afraid that something would be wrong with my travel document and I would not be admitted. I called John just before going in to the Border Control office and he told me not to be nervous – that my travel document would authorize me to be admitted back into the United States. He was right!

What advice would you have for other DACA farmworkers traveling on Advance Parole?

Don’t be scared. Make sure to have all of the documents before leaving United States. Be ready to answer simple questions like, “What was the purposes of traveling under the Advance Parole?” “What part of Mexico did you visit?” “Where do you live?” “How long have you been in the United States?” “What do you do for a living?” Make sure that you speak truly and clear.

Maria was able to visit the family members she left behind at the age of nine when she moved to the U.S.

Maria was able to visit family members she left behind when she moved to the U.S. at the age of nine.

ECMHSP Celebrates Immigrant Heritage Month

IHM16Today concludes Immigrant Heritage Month. During the month of June, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project joined Welcome.us and other organizations, celebrities, and community leaders in celebrating the contributions and diversity our immigrant communities bring to the United States.

ECMHSP offers Head Start services to farmworker families, which often are immigrants, through centers located from Lake Okeechobee in Florida to Lake Erie in  Pennsylvania.  Our immigrant families come from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Haiti.  They speak Spanish, Creole, and Mixteco. They share family meals of tacos, pupusas, and sos pwa.  While each immigrant community may offer unique cultures and customs, one thing remains true for all of our families — they all work hard to provide a secure source of fresh fruits and vegetables to American dinner tables each day.  ECMHSP thanks them for their hard work by providing their children with the best early childhood education and comprehensive Head Start services possible.

While their parents work in the fields, ECMHSP provides these smiling children high-quality Head Start services.

While their parents work in the fields, ECMHSP provides these smiling children high-quality Head Start services.

Many ECMHSP staff share the immigrant experience themselves and work hard to make our families feel welcomed to this country.  All of our centers have bilingual staff to teach our children in their home languages and communicate the child’s progress with the parents.  Our early education curriculum incorporates immigrant cultural references so that children can see their experiences reflected in the classroom activities and parents can help their children with take-home lessons.  Our menus are developed with the assistance of parents to ensure their children are able to eat nutritious meals that taste like mami’s food.   We also work to empower our parents into becoming advocates for our community by bravely sharing their stories, whether it was on Capitol Hill, national and local media stories, or documentaries.

As we conclude Immigrant Heritage Month, we want to share a powerful short documentary, “Para Los Niños” (For the Children), highlighting one of our ECMHSP families from Alabama.   In the documentary, filmmakers William Johnston-Carter and Danielle Bryant wanted to show how our immigrant parents struggle to provide a better life for their children by working on American farms.  This short film reminds us that this nation is great because it is a nation of immigrants.

To view the film, click here.

ECMHSP parent from Alabama in the film, "Para Los Niños." Photo by William Johnston-Carter.

ECMHSP parent from Alabama in the film, “Para Los Niños.” Photo by William Johnston-Carter.

US Supreme Court Divided on DAPA/DACA+

Today, the eight Justices on the United States Supreme Court divided equally on the question of whether President Obama had the legal authority to implement immigration relief for undocumented individuals who are the parents of United States-born children and for an expanded group of individuals under the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. This non-decision decision by the Supreme Court means that hard-working, law-abiding individuals will continue to live in daily fear of separation from their United States citizen children.  It also means that American children will live in daily fear of being separated from their parents.

Maria is one of the  ECMHSP parents who has benefitted from the DACA program.

Maria is one of the ECMHSP parents who has benefitted from the DACA program.

Since the creation of the DACA program on June 15, 2012, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project (ECMHSP) has provided pro bono immigration services to farmworkers, helping them prepare applications under the DACA program. We have seen first-hand the wonderful impact the DACA program has had on young farmworkers who qualify.  Farmworkers like Maria Sanchez of Gresham, South Carolina, have returned to school, obtained employment outside of the fields, and passed driver’s license tests – all as a result of their approved DACA applications.  More importantly, farmworkers like Maria have been able to go about their daily lives without the fear that they would be detained and separated from their families.

Thousands of farmworkers whose children attend Head Start programs operated by ECMHSP would have benefitted from a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court.   We are heart-broken that their path to a better, less-fearful life, has been blocked.IMG_6464

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project joins with our collaborative partners in calling on Congress to comprehensively address our country’s broken immigration system. Farmworkers ensure that our country has a safe and secure source of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Indeed, what we, as Americans, have on our dining room table is what is given to us from the hands of farmworkers.   The least we can do in return for this bounty is allow our farmworkers to live among us without fear.

Farmworker Families Need DAPA & DACA+

More than 4,000 people wait outside of the Supreme Court building during the oral arguments of DAPA and DACA+.

This morning the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on two of President Obama’s important executive actions providing administrative relief from immigration enforcement: Deferred Action for Parents of American-born Children (DAPA) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA+). The case will determine the future of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United State hoping for relief from the threat of deportation that would rip their families apart.

In the absence of Congressional action, DAPA and DACA+ would improve the lives of undocumented immigrants with deep ties to the community. Although these programs are not perfect, they would provide undocumented immigrants with options to live and work in the United States. And—more importantly—they will help keep families together.

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Supporters of DAPA and DACA+ march to the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States.

On the steps of the Supreme Court building, more than 4,000 people gathered this morning from across the country for a rally, voicing their support through chants, poster signs, and a march. ECMHSP joins the many organizations standing in support of the president’s actions.  According to Farmworker Justice, one in six beneficiaries of DAPA and DACA+ will be farmworkers or directly related to farm work.  This includes many of the farmworker families we serve at ECMHSP centers.

Take Maria Adame Dominguez’s story for example. Maria immigrated to the United States at the age of nine.  Although she was a bright student at school, Maria became discouraged when she realized her options to continue her studies were limited due to her undocumented status.  She decided to drop out of school, and shortly after having her first son, she joined her father in the mushroom fields.  When she enrolled her son

Maria and her children's lives have been improved through DACA.

Maria and her children’s lives have been improved through DACA.

in the ECMHSP Head Start program, she became involved in the ECMHSP governance and quickly rose through the ranks; in 2014, she was elected as the ECMHSP Policy Council President.  Although Maria continued to work in the fields, she never gave up on her dreams of earning a college degree.  After receiving her DACA, she enrolled back in school and is currently studying to earn her Associate’s degree in Early Childhood Management.  In addition, Maria applied to work at the very ECMHSP Head Start center that helped her family, and is now the Family Service Coordinator with Pathstone Corporation, a delegate agency of ECMHSP.  [You can read Maria’s full story, “A Parent’s Dream,” in the ECMSHP’s 2015 Annual Report.]

Just as Maria’s life and that of her children have been improved through DACA, we know many more families can benefit from DAPA and DACA+, especially our migrant and seasonal farmworker families.  In response to the great need in our farmworker communities, ECMHSP developed Farmworker Families United!, an immigration legal services program that provides pro bono legal assistance to farmworkers whose children are enrolled in our Head Start centers.  Through this program, ECMHSP has helped many parents apply for DACA, which currently remains in place, and has seen the positive effect the deferred action has on the lives of our farmworker families.  If the Supreme Court upholds President Obama’s executive actions, ECMHSP will be ready to continue helping our families enroll in the important deferred action programs.

Many of our families have been in the country for a long time and are interwoven into the fabric of our society.  Farmworkers are responsible for providing our nation with a safe and secure source of fresh food and vegetables every day.  The very least we can do is reward their labor by fighting for their families and supporting actions that will keep their families together.

The DAPA and DACA+ programs could improve the lives of millions of undocumented families, including our farmworker families.