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.

Farmworker Mom a Leader and Dreamer at ECMHSP

Meiby in the fields

Migrant farmworker Meiby Mora Soto is both a leader and a Dreamer at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.  The 29-year-old mother of one has served as the president of ECMHSP’s Policy Council since her election to office by her peers in August 2017.

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Meiby Mora attends the 2017 National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association Public Policy Forum and Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Mora Soto was brought to the United States of America from Mexico at the age of 14 in November 2003.  She attended high school in Bradenton, Florida, for 18 months, but then dropped out and began working a variety of jobs in and around Bradenton.

Beginning in 2010, she found her most steady employment as a migrant farmworker.  She has picked tomatoes in her current hometown of Immokalee, Florida, and has traveled up the East Coast to the low country of South Carolina.  She then travels to the Virginia Eastern Shore to live in a labor camp and work in the fields from July through November.

Meiby and Jovani

Meiby and her son, Jovani.

ECMHSP has taught Jovani the necessary skills to be successful in school.  Meiby tells us that Jovani can easily make friends anywhere he goes.  He’s a healthy and happy five-year-old boy – living proof of ECMHSP’s success.

In addition to being a leader, Meiby is a Dreamer.  In 2015, ECMHSP offered Meiby pro bono immigration services to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).  After multiple immigration lawyers had given her no hope of becoming a DACA recipient, staff at ECMHSP worked tirelessly to help Meiby.  Nine months after her application was filed with USCIS, her DACA dream came true.

“ECMHSP not only gave me a safe haven for Jovani while I was at work, they have given me the opportunity to become an advocate for migrant farmworkers,” Meiby says.  “They have shown me that my voice counts.”

Guest Post: Growing Up with a Migrant Mother

Conde La Voz Staff Photo

Photo Credit: La Voz

I recently attended the funeral of our Godmother Lala Esquibel. Her passing was more than an interruption of the life our families.

The closer you got to her two sons in their moment of sorrow, the more devastating was her departure. They say that funerals are a way of coping for those left behind and this certainly was a great example of that purpose.

I lost my mother in 2002 after a relatively long illness. Knowing she would be gone soon, she attended our family reunion in Austin, Texas to say goodbye and ask her younger sister, my Aunt Lydia, to look after us.

We buried Uncle Robert, one of mother’s brothers a week ago in Texas and everyone was there including my Aunt Lydia. My brief moments with her brought back so many memories of living with and loving mom.

As I prepare to celebrate both the Mexican Mothers Day on Thursday, May 10th and Sunday May 13th for those in the United States, I have so much to go over. The spirit and shadow of mother’s power and affection hangs over us as it has always.

My earliest memory of mom was when she was 15 and I was a 1-year old holding a tin cup so that my grandfather, who was milking a cow by hand, could fill it. Drinking that warm milk with mother looking at me with pride was the subject of the first story I wrote for a school project.

I remember her with us in the back of a truck as we prepared to leave South Texas for the harvest fields of the Midwest. Our travel began that year in front of a courthouse where one of the men in the group went in to get a copy of his birth certificate because even then, having your papers in order was important.

It was that year that mom showed her mettle as a 19-year old leader in the migrant community. I was on the floor at my father’s feet in the front cabin of a truck that was headed back home from the harvest fields of Missouri, Ohio, Michigan and Arkansas when we were refused service at a restaurant in Wichita Falls, Texas. My angry mother came from the back of the truck and took over the driver’s seat and the caravan that followed.

She found a restaurant that would serve us because she could read a sign that said, “We serve all the children of God.” She never waited for the right political climate such as today’s “#Me Too” to exercise effective leadership as a woman and her reputation grew in the fields even after we settled in Colorado.

Until shortly before I left to join the Air Force, mom continued to take the family during the summers to work the cotton fields in the South. The last time I spent one of these summers with her, she managed a Black crew from Louisiana that chopped and clean the cotton fields of Central Texas.

In a way she was like an older sister that grew up taking care of a younger sibling. Our closeness came out of growing up together in an atmosphere of unconditional love that only a mother can give.

Mom created a magical world founded in the richness of what she offered even in the middle of poverty and economic challenges. She was a leader of people that always sought to address issues greater than herself and the regular requirements of a loving mother.

[Written by David Conde. Published in La Voz Bilingüe on May 9, 2018.]

Dr. David Conde is the President for North America of the Chamber of the Americas.  He currently serves as the President of the ECMHSP Board of Directors and a Contributing Writer to La Voz Bilingüe. 

Story of ECMHSP Dreamer Shared on Capitol Hill

Leaders from the faith, business and advocacy communities read Dreamer testimonials on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: FWD.us

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project is committed to preparing the children of migrant and seasonal farm workers for success. The farmworker families we serve entrust their children to ECMHSP centers while they toil in the fields every day to feed America. But many of these same families live with the fear of separation, afraid that today will be the last day they will get to hold their children when they drop them off at our centers. The undocumented families we serve are in need of permanent immigration solutions that can ensure unity and safety of their families. Now more than ever, it is important we uplift their stories and highlight how our farmworker families are woven into the fabric of our country.

On Monday, the Center for American Progress Action Fund and FWD.us partnered to host, “Speak out for Dreamers!”, a story-sharing marathon on Capitol Hill. Leaders from the faith, business and advocacy communities, including the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association and ECMHSP, came together for a six-hour readout of Dreamer testimonials to highlight how the DACA program has been transformative for 800,000 young undocumented people who came to the United States as children.

Janna Rios of NMSHSA and Norma Flores López of ECMHSP at the Dreamers event. Photo credit: FWD.us

ECMHSP, through its pro bono immigration services, helped Dreamers, whose children were enrolled in our Head Start centers, apply for temporary relief through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. We shared at the event one of the many Dreamer stories collected from our centers.

I had the honor to read the story of Juana Rodriguez Cruz, a Dreamer and former farmworker that, thanks to DACA, now works in one of the ECMHSP centers in Florida. As Juana shares –

At the time of my high school graduation, the United States had invested 13 years in me and I had come to love and respect this great country of ours. I say “ours” because in my heart this is my country. It is the red, white, and blue flag that I pledged allegiance to every day in class. It is the flag I recognize as my own. I am proud of my Mexican heritage, but it is to the United States to which I pledged everything.

You can hear me read Juana’s courageous story and her call to Congress by viewing the video below [begins at 2:55:21].

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The story-sharing marathon came just days before Members of Congress will be voting to either pass bipartisan legislation to protect Dreamers, or vote on a spending bill by December 8 that funds their deportation. Advocates call on Congress to provide a solution before going home for the holidays.

Norma prepares to share Juana’s powerful story. Photo credit: FWD.us

According to FWD.us, every day that Congress fails pass legislation to protect Dreamers, 122 Dreamers lose their DACA protection. As of today, more than 10,900 Dreamers are estimated to have lost their status as a result of President Donald Trump’s decision to end the program earlier this year. By the end of this week, the number will rise to 11,400. Dreamers, like Juana and many of the parents and staff at ECMHSP centers, cannot afford another delay by Congress.

Dreamers are our neighbors. They are the people that harvest the foods we eat every day. They are the people that teach our children in our centers. They are the people that make our country better. They have incredible stories of perseverance, hope and love that we need to share with Congress, and our Members of Congress have a responsibility to provide Dreamers with protection from deportations. The future and success of our country depends on it.

Farmworker DREAMers Are Here to Stay

Supporters of DACA gathered outside of the White House following the administration’s announcement.

This morning, United States Attorney General, Jeffrey Sessions, announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is ending. Shortly after the announcement, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services released information on how DACA will be wound down.

Individuals with DACA applications and renewal applications currently pending will have those applications processed. Individuals with DACA status that is scheduled to expire on or before March 5, 2018, will have a window of time to file a DACA renewal (until October 5, 2017). Anyone whose DACA status expires after March 5, 2018, will not be eligible to renew their DACA, but they will remain DACA-protected until their DACA expires.

Friends and family of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.

The winding down of the DACA program has focused our country upon the contributions of DREAMers and the need for Congress to protect the DREAMers. In the United States Senate, the Dream Act enjoys bipartisan support and its two chief sponsors, Senator Richard Durbin (D – Illinois) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R – South Carolina), intend to bring the legislation to the floor of the Senate before the end of September. It is expected to pass easily.

The House of Representatives also is considering legislation that will protect the DREAMers. This past weekend, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan (R – Wisconsin), shared his support for the DREAMers: “These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home. And so I really do believe that there needs to be a legislative solution. That’s one that we’re working on. And I think we want to give people peace of mind.”

Supporters of DACA chanted, “Here to stay!” outside of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Washington, DC.

The DACA program has served as a lifeline to many farmworkers served by East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, and we are proud to have provided pro bono legal representation to many farmworker DREAMers. Today, friends and family of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project took to the streets of Washington, DC, to show their support for farmworker DREAMers and DREAMers everywhere. We will continue to advocate for relief so that our farmworker DREAMers can proclaim proudly, “We are here to stay.”

Guest Post: David Conde Feels Strongly About the Future of Latinos in America

Dr. David Conde; Photo Credit: La Voz Bilingüe

David Conde is not a stranger to immigration, immigrant rights or immigrant needs. In fact, he grew up in a migrant home as part of a family that “traveled the country to put food on people’s tables,” as he tells it.

Boards of Directors

Professionally, he has both literally and figuratively continued to put food on people’s tables. Conde has spent most of his life fighting to strengthen and uphold immigrant rights. He is the President of the Board of Directors of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, the largest of its kind in the country. He is on the Board of Directors of the New America Schools and the New America College, both of which serve immigrant students in the Denver area, and he continues to work for the Chamber of the Americas, which specializes in trade and commerce in North, Central and South America.

With his hands in so many pots, it is easy to see why many look to Conde for guidance, especially in these turbulent times for immigrants. When asked if the current administration has made his job more difficult, Conde was candid.

“East Cost [Migrant Head Start Project] is especially experiencing major challenges as the migrant farm workers have to take special precautions as they navigate not only state jurisdictions, but also ICE pressures that limit their travel options,” he said.

La Voz – Commentary

Aside from his exploits in upper education and on many boards or directors, Conde has also contributed to La Voz for 19 years providing an educated look at immigration and many other topics in the United States through his social commentaries.

“Writing commentary over the decades has given me the opportunity to interpret major changes in the Latino human condition that began as an oppressed and marginalized community and now has achieved a space as an emerging power in American politics,” he said. “The agenda I convey to the readers is that with the assistance of Latino immigrants who helped to restore history, identity and language, the community is posed to become a pluralistic majority and faces the pressure to prepare America. Latinos Millennials have already begun that process by eliminating the dropout rate issue nationally and attending college at a higher rate than anyone else including Whites.”

Wave of the Future

It is the new generation of Latinos that Conde often references now as he sees a brighter future on the horizon, but he cautions that the progress made over the decades can be lost, if they forget who they are.

“The new generation of Latinos needs to be better understood by the rest of us as they truly represent a radical departure in lifestyle, motivation and leadership,” he said. “At the same time, they are not burdened by the trauma of oppression experienced by the older generations and feel free to create a multicultural community that will constitute the new majority. For them, the mistake to be avoided is to again forget who they are and where they came from.”

Media scrutiny

As both a contributor to and a consumer of mass media, Conde said he is not oblivious to the scrutiny the media have fallen under over the years.

“The relatively new press outlets such as cable, pod, blogs and social media have changed the way news is presented to the point that almost every slant real or imagined is included,” he said. “Much of this is also caused by a political division in the country resulting from demographic changes that will see the majority become one of the minorities.”

Immigration reform

Also not lost on Conde is immigration reform. A topic both major political parties in the U.S. campaign on, but neither actual does anything to address.

“Comprehensive immigration reform has become less of a priority because of the political climate,” Conde said. “Also, undocumented immigrants have already contributed to the creation of a new generation of American-born citizens that are reaching voting age at a rate over 900,000 a year. When you couple this with the loss of a million votes a year on the part of the majority, it is clear that with or without immigration reform the march toward a new order is well on its way.”

[Written by Joshua Pilkington. Published in La Voz Bilingüe on August 2, 2017.]

Dr. David Conde is the President for North America of the Chamber of the Americas.  He currently serves as the President of the ECMHSP Board of Directors and a Contributing Writer to La Voz Bilingüe. 

ECMHSP on the West Coast for NMSHSA Conference ‘17

The National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its Annual National Conference in Costa Mesa, CA, from March 5 through March 9. A number of our dedicated employees travelled to the conference to learn about the changes to the Head Start Performance Standards, which were rolled out last summer. It was a great opportunity to hear about implementation strategies and the importance of being outcomes-driven in our execution.

Parents from Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs nationwide, including ECMHSP, gathered to learn about their critical role in our programs.

Joining ECMHSP staff at the conference, most for the first time, were the ECMHSP Policy Council Executive Committee members: Cristina Hernandez, President; Silvia Rodarte, Vice-President; Meiby Mora, Treasurer; Leticia Baez, Secretary; and Ramona C. De Loera, Parliamentarian. These farmworker parents were able to attend the workshops on topics ranging from indigenous cultures in Mexico to immigration rights and parent involvement. During the Parent Affiliate meeting, Meiby was elected as Alternate and will represent the group as a member of the NMSHSA Board of Directors. Furthermore, Meiby was elected to fill one of the three Member-at-Large positions on the NSMSHA Board of Directors’ Executive Committee. We are very proud to see Meiby’s continued growth and will provide the support she needs as she goes on to represent and lead parents nationwide in the Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Programs.

Also elected onto the NMSHSA Board of Directors are John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, Patti Kingery, ECMHSP Director of Program Operations-East, and myself. The ECMSHP is honored to bring our perspective from the different levels of our organization as we support the Association’s mission to serve our farmworker families.

Staff and Policy Council members representing ECMHSP at the NMSHSA Conference in California.

Each year, ECMHSP staff are invited to present on best practices and cutting-edge techniques that allow us to provide services of the highest quality. For example, this year, I presented a session entitled, “Head Start Champions: Advocacy for the MSHS Community,” with the assistance of Cristina, the ECMHSP Policy Council President. In the session, Head Start service providers from varying backgrounds and positions learned the basics of advocating for our community and effective strategies. Now more than ever, we need advocates that will help us elevate the successes of our migrant and seasonal Head Start programs.

ECMHSP CEO Dr. Villa (right) discusses national issues affecting ECMHSP programs with COO Javier Gonzalez.

Conference participants were able to listen from the Office of Head Start, with informative presentations from Sandra Carton, Regional Program Manager for Migrant and Seasonal Programs (Region XII) and other staff from the Office of Head Start. Welcomed by John Menditto at the second day plenary, the conference attendees were inspired by the presentation of Dr. Ramon Resa, the author of Out of the Fields: My Journey from Farmworker Boy to Pediatrician. For the final plenary, I had the pleasure of welcoming the conference attendees before the keynote speaker, Kevin Carnes of Lakeshores Learning Materials, was introduced.

At the conference, ECMSHP brought important and much-needed voices to the West Coast. We look forward to more opportunities to represent our community!