East Coast Makes a Strong Impression in Washington, D.C.

group picLast week, the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its 2018 Public Policy Forum at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC.  Staff and parent leaders representing Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) grantees from across the country came to the nation’s capital to discuss the most pressing issues affecting the farmworker community and to hear from policy officials about the latest developments in the Head Start program.

Attendees had the privilege of welcoming the newly-appointed Director of the Office of Head Start, Dr. Deborah Bergeron.  A former classroom teacher and elementary and high school administrator, Dr. B –as she likes to be called— shared how she will use her three decades of pre-K–12 public education experience to provide unique insights into how Head Start can support our most vulnerable children to become school ready.   She also talked about her recent visit to ECMHSP’s North Carolina Migrant and Seasonal Head Start centers.  Of her trip, Dr. Bergeron said, “In one day I got to get a sense of the Migrant Head Start experience from the family, farmer, center, and community partner perspective. It was a 360⁰ view for sure!”

Following Dr. B’s opening remarks, advocates discussed the current state of play in Washington on a range of policy and legislative issues affecting MSHS families in 2018.  In a panel titled, “Washington Update: Policy Issues Impacting Farmworker Families,” panelists provided updates on the federal budget, appropriations, and the impact of tax reform on our communities and the federal programs families rely on, including the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program.

There’s no doubt that immigration reform was among one of the most important subjects covered during the Public Policy Forum.  In a panel discussion moderated by ECMHSP’s John Menditto, speakers highlighted the crucial nature of our advocacy work for farmworker families. Common sense immigration reform can benefit farmworkers, farmers, and everyone who relies on American-grown fresh fruits and vegetables, while providing parents with the security that they will not be separated from their children.  Additionally, farmworkers are losing work opportunities with the increased use of the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers program.

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Javier Gonzalez, ECMHSP COO, Meiby Mora, ECMHSP Policy Council President, and John Menditto,  ECMHSP General Counsel.

At the conclusion of the panel on immigration, Meiby Mora, ECMHSP Policy Council President, shared how in 2015, ECMHSP offered Meiby pro bono immigration services to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) after she was turned away by other lawyers.  The challenges Meiby faced in obtaining her legal protections are some of the same challenges farmworkers face due to their migratory lifestyle and lack of documentation.

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Monica Ramirez with ECMHSP parents.

Following the panel, participants heard the story of Monica Ramirez, the proud daughter and granddaughter of migrant farmworkers.  For more than two decades, she has served Latina farmworkers and immigrant women as an organizer and advocate, and she has focused her work on ending gender-based violence in the workplace and achieving gender equity as the co-founder and President of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas.  Monica Ramirez received a standing ovation for her powerful message to all attendees.

The afternoon panels also highlighted other challenges being felt in the communities MSHS centers serve.  One panel reflected on what advocates see as the greatest challenges and opportunities facing Head Start providers working in rural communities – including hiring and retaining staff, financing and maintaining quality facilities, and transportation.  The final panel of the day discussed the importance of sharing the stories from our communities through various campaigns supporting the immigrant community and Head Start programs.  Farmworker parents shared how their powerful stories have made a difference, whether it was a video, letter or art from their children.

As part of day two of the Forum, the ECMHSP team was invited to discuss the MSHS program and the needs of the farmworker community by members of Congress and their staff.  A total of nine staff members, four parents and two former Head Start students met with Hill staffers to share the great work ECMHSP is doing in their communities and discussed ways we could partner to better support farmworker families.  One ECMHSP advocacy team comprised of Dr. José Villa, Chief Executive Officer, Christine Alvarado, Chief Innovation Officer, and parents Ramona Deloera and Nalleli Trejo, had the most impressive meetings; they had intimate gatherings with US Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson of Florida.

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Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Erika Aguilera, NMSHSA Intern.

Although ECMHSP had the opportunity to meet with US Senator Cory Booker’s Legislative Director, later in the day, we ran into Senator Booker while he was shooting a commercial on the steps of the Supreme Court building.  One of NMSHSA’s four interns for the summer, Erika Aguilera, had a quick chat with the Senator to advocate for the Head Start program in New Jersey and throughout the United States. She shares —

 “Running into Senator Booker was quite the surprise. We spoke in Spanish because he felt that it was very important to continue the language. I mentioned to him that migrant families are vital to this country being that they feed America. I emphasized how important the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program is for children because those children can then grow up and receive amazing opportunities, like myself. To give him a better idea, I explained how my father has worked all his life in the fields picking seasonal fruit and in the winter, harvesting grapes, which is a tough job that not everyone can tolerate.”

The NMSHSA 2018 Public Policy Forum was a huge success.  Head Start parents and advocates from the farmworker community shared their stories with important lawmakers in hopes that they can recognize farmworker families for performing one of the toughest jobs in the United States and sharing their support.  ECMHSP will keep uniting with all MSHS programs nationwide to defend farmworker families and to ensure the children of farmworkers are prepared for educational success.

Homecoming 2017: A Trip to a Field of Dreams

About 15 years ago, Priscilla Garza, Cheyla Moranchel, Armando Cendejas, and Juan Rangel were young children enrolled in the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program. Priscilla’s MSHS experience was in Texas and Maryland, in programs operated by Teaching and Mentoring Communities and East Coast Migrant Head Start Project. Cheyla’s was in Oregon in a MSHS program operated by the Oregon Child Development Coalition, while Armando and Juan both attended ECMHSP’s MSHS center in Fort Pierce, Florida.   This summer, these four MSHS graduates had the opportunity to put all of their intellectual talents to work in Washington, DC, as recipients of the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association’s summer internship program.

NMSHSA Internship Class of 2017 with John Menditto and the Pathstone staff members.

The NMSHSA summer internship program provides paid internships each year for four college students who previously participated in the MSHS program. This is the sixth year that the summer internship program has been in place and 24 MSHS students have now had the opportunity to come to Washington, DC, to live and work. This summer, Priscilla (an aspiring lawyer) worked at the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization, and Cheyla worked at Farmworker Justice, where she worked on a variety of farmworker health projects. Armando worked at the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators and was involved on issues impacting the Hispanic community, such as healthcare and the environment. And Juan worked at the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute where he helped plan and execute a number of special events and projects.

Juan Rangel, a former ECMHSP student enrolled in college, is carrying a little boy from the Fields of Dream Head Start Center.

This past Friday marked the last day of work for the 2017 NMSHSA Summer Internship Class. To mark the occasion, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project and our phenomenal delegate agency partner, PathStone Corporation, hosted a homecoming for Priscilla, Cheyla, Armando, and Juan in Adams County, Pennsylvania, where PathStone operates a MSHS center serving hardworking farmworker families.

The NMSHSA Interns were able to learn about the apple harvest in Adams County, PA, during their tour of Rice Fruit Company’s processing plant.

Our day began with a tour of the Adams County MSHS Center, Field of Dreams. There, the summer interns had an opportunity to play with the young children, which led them all to recall their own experience as MSHS students. From there, PathStone employees Carla Herrera, Family Services Coordinator, and Iris Perez, Center Administrator, brought us to Rice Fruit Company’s fruit processing facility, which was just down the road from the center. Leighton Rice and Policy Council member, Fernando Estrada, provided us a thorough education on the harvesting and production of apples and peaches in Adams County. We were particularly inspired by the farmworker moms packing apples, a number of whom came off the production line to thank East Coast Migrant Head Start Project and PathStone for the services we have provided, including two moms whose oldest children were now in college.

Priscilla Garza shares her story at the Field of Dreams center, including her experiences in DC for the summer.

Priscilla, Cheyla, Armando, and Juan’s homecoming was made complete back at Field of Dreams, where PathStone hosted a lunch in their honor. At the outset of the day on the way to PathStone, each of summer interns was asked about their best experience this summer. For some, it involved a work accomplishment; for others it was a particular cultural event. By the end of the day, though, the 2017 NMSHSA Summer Internship Class was unanimous in their assessment: the 2017 Homecoming Visit to the Field of Dreams MSHS Center was the best experience of a summer filled with amazing experiences.

Continuity and Stability for our Mobile Families

Blueberry harvest in North Carolina. Photo credit: Morgan McCloy, NPR

Blueberry harvest in North Carolina. Photo credit: Morgan McCloy, NPR

This morning, NPR aired a story on North Carolina’s blueberry harvest, “For Pickers, Blueberries Mean Easier Labor But More Upheaval.” The report focused on a migrant farmworker family who followed the harvest from Florida to North Carolina, and then continued on to Michigan.

Benito Santiago spoke with reporter Dan Charles about his family’s journey. His family made the difficult and often risky travel to from Florida to North Carolina’s blueberry harvest because, even though the season is brief, it is profitable and it is one of the easier crops to harvest. But Benito is also aware of the burden the migratory lifestyle has on his family, especially the children.

Children learn and play at one of our centers while their parents work in the fields.

Children learn and play at one of our centers while their parents work in the fields.

Children from migrant farmworker families with a disrupted education, like Benito’s children, oftentimes fall behind in their studies and struggle to catch up more and more as each year passes. Just as a child is starting to settle into a new school with new teachers and new friends, it is time for the family to move again.

This story underscores why our migrant farmworker families need our support. As it has for the last 30 years, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project continues to provide continuity in services and stability for the children of migrant farmworker families through their Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program. ECMHSP programs serve farmworker families by offering dual-language early childhood education for their children from birth to age five, and classes designed to enhance parents’ understanding of the public school system. ECMHSP equips students with the knowledge and skills they need to enter kindergarten, and empowers parents to take an active role in the education of their children. You can learn more about the high quality and comprehensive services provided and the farmworker families we serve by seeing this video, a part of the series American Graduate.

What makes ECMHSP truly special is our ability to overcome the many challenges we face to meet the unique needs of Migrant and Seasonal Head Start eligible children and their families. The farmworker families we serve are mobile, live in hard-to-reach rural areas, earn extremely low wages, and work long hours every day. Often times, farmworker families depend on our Migrant and Seasonal Head Start centers to provide healthcare services and treatments, transportation costs, and nutritious meals for their children.

ECMHSP operates 38 Migrant and Seasonal Head Start centers along the East Coast, from Lake Okeechobee, Florida, to Lake Erie, Pennsylvania. As a child moves from one of our center service areas to another center service area, we are able to access information on the children’s educational progress, immunization and health records, and family information to ensure the continuation of services and support. ECMHSP also maintains communication with the families served at our centers as they move up the East Coast so that servces are shaped around their needs.

Farmworker Benito carrying his daughter. Photo credit: Morgan McCloy, NPR

Farmworker Benito carrying his daughter. Photo credit: Morgan McCloy, NPR

Benito Santiago was able to buy a house in Bladen County, North Carolina. His children will be able to attend the same school year round with the same teachers. But many families will continue to make the trek across America to provide us with the fresh fruits and vegetables we enjoy each day. And ECMSHP will be here to give their children a safe place to learn and play.

To find the nearest ECMHSP center, please visit our website: www.ecmhsp.org.

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.

NMSHSA’s 8th Public Policy Forum

Last week, the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its 8th annual Public Policy Forum in Washington, DC on June 6.  ECMHSP staff and parents from the Policy Council advocated for the needs of the farmworker families served by our centers along the East Coast throughout the forum and on Capitol Hill.

On June 4, prior to the forum, parents from Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs from across the country received training on how to participate in Capitol Hill visits with their congressional representatives.  They also participated in a workshop on how to share with policy leaders their personal experiences and the issues that matter to their communities.  During the afternoon, the parents received training on the DACA program from Farmworker Justice, at which they learned about deferred action, eligibility for the program, how to find immigration resources in their community, and how to avoid fraudulent immigration practices.

President of the NMSHSA Parent Affiliates and parents from the American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Program share ideas on a panel discussion.

President of the NMSHSA Parent Affiliates and parents from the American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Program share ideas on a panel discussion.

The NMSHSA Public Policy Forum was a historic event. For the first time, NMSHSA collaborated with the National Indian Head Start Association to bring together both communities to discuss the state of affairs in their communities and the policies needed to address their needs.  Parents from the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs were able to learn from and share ideas with parents from the American Indian and Alaskan Native Head Start program through panel discussion and hallway conversations.

The highlight of the forum took place on June 7, when staff and parents from both Head Start programs visited the Congressional delegations on Capitol Hill to educate them on the importance of Head Start services for our communities.  In total, ECMHSP completed 14 visits to Congressional offices, including a meeting with Congressman Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania’s Third Congressional District.  During the visit, Leonor Saldaña, ECMHSP Policy Council member from Erie, Pennsylvania, shared her personal story with Representative Kelly and explained how her family has benefitted

ECMHSP parents and staff visit members of Congress to educate them on the benefits of Head Start programs for the farmworker community.

ECMHSP parents and staff visit members of Congress to educate them on the benefits of Head Start programs for the farmworker community.

from the Head Start services provided by the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, an ECMHSP delegate agency.  Representative Kelly, as well as Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey accepted invitations to visit our centers in their districts this summer.

The NMSHSA Public Policy Forum concluded with a Hill reception that evening, at which parents and staff from the Head Start programs had an opportunity to interact with staff from the Congressional offices.

ECMSHP staff and parents are proud to have led in the advocacy efforts for our Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program in the nation’s capital. We will continue to voice the needs and the contributions of our farmworker communities from Lake Okeechobee,

Florida, to Lake Erie, Pennsylvania. To learn more about our programs, please visit our website.

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.