GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A grant from a local foundation aims to help the undocumented immigrant children who fled from Central America to West Michigan and their families.
The Grand Rapids Community Foundation on Friday announced a $50,000 grant to the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center to provide legal representation for unaccompanied immigrant children who are seeking asylum or other legal relief in the Grand Rapids area. The Justice AmeriCorp program matched the grant.
“They’re fleeing gang recruitment, violence, extreme poverty. They’re coming to reunite with a parent that’s already here. They’re also fleeing abuse in their home or sexual violence or exploitation,” said Ana Devereaux, a Justice AmeriCorps member attorney working with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. “A big reason we find that they’ll be here more in West Michigan than on the eastern side of the state is there’s a community that’s already here, so they’re reuniting to be with a parent or a sister, a good friend of the family.”
About 60 percent of the children are eligible for asylum or some other form of humanitarian relief, according to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation release announcing the grant. But Devereaux said that when they get to the U.S., they often are faced with a lot of legal problems.
“In immigration law, there’s no right to an attorney, so you have to try to obtain one on your own and for a child who has just arrived in the country, who doesn’t speak the language, who themselves don’t have an income, usually their families are lower income, so there’s really no access,” Devereaux said.
With the help of the grant, Devereaux and another attorney will help children under the age of 16 and their families maneuver through the court system.
They hope it will make an impact in the children’s lives and the community.
“There’s a great need for these children and we’re very grateful as an organization to receive the grant and be able to make a difference. Just kind of seeing these children and seeing them with the real faces that they have and the stories that they come with of great tragedy and trauma, but they are here and they’re ready to thrive in these communities,” said Devereaux.
The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center has also received funding from the Michigan State Bar Foundation, the Congregation of St. Joseph and other individual and law firm donors.