As the country continues to deal with the effects of family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border that dispersed unaccompanied children throughout the country, various community groups are picking up the slack in helping to reunite them.
Vanessa Gongora, an unaccompanied alien children (UAC) case manager at Lutheran Services Carolinas, is one of the few people in Charleston tasked with making that happen.
When a shelter run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement decides that an unaccompanied minor can live with a sponsor while they await court proceedings, it is Gongora’s job to visit the home and help provide various services to the child (if the shelter assigns post-release services to the child in question).
“We definitely need donations for unaccompanied minors in S.C.!” she said in an email to the City Paper. “They need to raise money for legal fees … and most live in poverty.”
On June 26, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to stop separating families at the border and reunite families separated by the Justice Department’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy within 30 days, or within 14 days for children under 5, according to the New York Times. The policy prosecuted adults who crossed the southern border, placed them in detention, and housed their kids in various facilities across the country for as long as eight months, as was the case for one Brazilian mother and her 14-year-old child. That mother was a party in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that led to the recent reunification.
But more than 30 days after the judge’s order, 711 children were still not reunited with their families for one reason or another, according to CNN.
Gongora says that Lutheran Services Carolinas is “desperately” seeking a Portuguese interpreter for one child and parent that have been recently reunited. (Those interested can email LSC program coordinator Nicole Netzel at email@example.com.) Those wishing to help monetarily can donate here.
Below are four more Charleston-area community groups helping the Latinx and immigrant communities year-round:
1. Barrier Island Free Medical Clinic (Johns Island)
BIFMC provides free medical services to uninsured, low-income adults living or working on Johns, James, and Wadmalaw islands. Due to their location and services, they service a large population of migrant workers and Hispanic immigrants.
They are currently looking for volunteers who can serve as English/Spanish interpreters, volunteer office staff, and volunteer non-clinical patient navigators. You can donate at bifmc.org.
2. PASOS Tri-County (Berkeley, Dorchester, and Charleston counties)
Founded in 2005 and headquartered in Columbia, PASOS (Spanish for ‘steps’) focuses on family health, early childhood, and parenting. The organization connects Latino families to education and services including prenatal care, state/federal aid, and family planning and reproductive health.
3. Our Lady of Mercy (Downtown and Johns Island)
This organization offers services like financial assistance, emergency food and clothes, dental and OB/GYN care, and youth education. They also provide services to agricultural farm workers. A Johns Island campus serves local sea islands (Johns, James, and Wadmalaw). The Neighborhood House campus serves the downtown area. They rely on the help of more than 300 volunteers. Visit olmoutreach.org for more info on how to volunteer or donate.
4. Catholic Charities Legal Assistance for Immigrants (Mt. Pleasant)
Offering help with family-based immigration cases, this group can help immigrant file for naturalization, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Visit charitiessc.org for more information or to donate.