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!

Guest Post: A Country Without Immigrant Labor

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 is a contributing writer for La Voz Bilingüe.  This is his latest article.

Dr. David Conde has seen the contributions of the immigrant community from his years of service on the ECMSHP Board of Directors and his personal experience.

You may have been watching a replay of Roots, the Alex Haley classic that traces American Black origins in West Africa.  Roots chronicles their capture and ordeal characterized by centuries of slavery and the loss of identity tied to race, color and place.  The novel and the television series is an expression of an epic attempt to recover what was lost by reconnecting the heritage line to its origins.

Even then, the more recent Black immigrants would fret about their American-born contemporaries’ inability to remember or care about where they came from.  Perhaps this is because their struggle for survival was such that history telling them who they are became a luxury.

Curiously, the over 41 million immigrants in America today could very well repeat the words of Kunta Kinte in a different time, in a different setting and to a different people.  The answer now compared to the answer then from a people facing slavery could sound more like an excuse for not guarding our freedom.

The immigrant community is now facing their own set of issues being played out in the national social, legal and political arena.  Yet, their true place is in the heart of America’s economic well-being.

On Thursday, February 16, a national day without immigrant labor took place in an effort to insert an economic argument that counters the political climate created by a campaign to discredit the value of immigrant work.  Extensive coverage was given to restaurants where 1 out of every 4 workers and almost half of the chefs are immigrants.

The 2015 records indicate that 26.3 million or 16.7 percent of the workforce are foreign-born and half of them are Latinos.  The three principle areas one can find immigrant workers is in the service industry, construction and farming.

The farmworker families served by ECMHSP are a part of the immigrant community that help this country thrive. 

One of the developing outcomes associated with the present administration’s deportation policy is that wages for the farm industry are going up.  The law of supply and demand is making farmers the victims of a political process that they themselves largely supported.

Wages for farm work is up 36 percent in the last decade compared to 27 percent in non-farm work and farm profits have been going down for the fourth consecutive year.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects farm wages to increase another 40 percent in the next 15 years.

This will force farmers to reduce their production by over half of what they are producing today. Fruit production for example, will drop by 61 percent.

That means that since the consumer will require 100 percent on the dining table, the country will have to import that fruit most likely from Mexico and Central America and pay the extra costs of tariffs since there will be no NAFTA.  By the way, this contradicts the very policy that is the basis for an America first theory that questions agreements like NAFTA.

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, is on record as saying, “The farm labor discussion is around whether or not our country wants to import our labor or whether they want to import their food.  I think the American people want to eat food that’s grown in America.”

Given the current political climate, food production may be an unpredictable affair depending on whether the immigrant farm worker feels safe from police raids and is wanted and appreciated.  Americans stand to get a significant hit on their pocketbooks before coming to understand the real value of the worker in the fields that puts food on the table at very economic prices.

[Published in La Voz Bilingüe on March 1, 2017.]

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.