This past year, I have been fortunate enough to have served with COIN as an AmeriCorps member with the Immigrant and Refugee Service Corps. I have interacted with so many and learned so much, and now that my service year is coming to end, I have been reflecting on my time with AmeriCorps and with COIN.
I knew that I was interested in working with immigrants and refugees long before I was placed with COIN, but having just graduated with a B.A. in philanthropic studies, had no previous experience with immigration law. One of the first events that I attended as an AmeriCorps member was a DACA renewal clinic at Catholic Charities- what a great start to my year! It was my first interaction with DACA and with many of COIN's partners, and an overwhelmingly heartwarming introduction to the community of volunteers, legal services providers, and immigrant service providers. Each event and interaction since has proven to be heartwarming, sometimes heart wrenching, and educational; I began to learn a little bit about the law, but also about the community, about the cultures, and about our partners.
As the year progressed I had many opportunities to develop my professional skills and continue learning from my peers. From event planning to graphic design, public speaking to writing blogs, I was challenged to help bolster COIN's growth and support our partners. I have been fortunate to have this unique role as an AmeriCorps member, to use this year not only as a chance to make an impact in my community but also to develop my skills and gain professional experience. Now as I enter the workforce, I feel comfortable and capable having had this experience and the opportunity to learn by action.
As my service is wrapping up, I have been reflecting on every aspect of my term. I am overwhelmingly grateful to those who supported me and helped me to learn. I am appreciative of the relationships that were formed and the connections that were made. And I do not take for granted that I was fortunate enough to participate in this year of service, that I was placed with COIN, and that I got to live out, and learn about, my passions and interest. Thank you to all who helped make this wonderful experience happen.
Are you someone looking for immigration news updates and don't know where to go to get them? Recently, it feels like breaking news and immigration law changes are happening several times a day. It can be hard, and frankly disheartening, to keep up, especially when news media outlets can be so polarizing. COIN consistently uses a few different resources to gain information, share with our partners, and hear the news. Here they are:
1. American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA): AILA is a great resource for those who want to learn and to hear about immigration law and advocacy because it is a national association of immigration attorneys. They often provide information on court decisions, activism opportunities, and legal trainings. You can check out their website here to learn more.
2. The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC): the NIJC is similar to AILA in that it provides legal information and shares news articles regarding the changes and injustices in that area. They are active in Indiana and throughout the Midwest so also sometimes provide local news on court cases and migrant communities. They have legal trainings available on their website for those who wish to educate themselves, and they can also host volunteers in a variety of ways. More information on NIJC can be found here.
3. Jesuit Refugee Services USA (JRS/USA): JRS is an international organization that helps to resettle refugees, and they also created the concept of "Walk a Mile in a Refugee's Shoes" (click here to see more on that). They often provide stories of refugees that they interact with, and they share information about refugee resettlement, the politics thereof, and statements from Pope Francis about refugees. Their social media is a great place to look for refugee advocacy and news and their website, which can be found here, provides more information about what they do and more.
4. National Immigration Forum/Noorani's Notes: the National Immigration Forum advocates for immigrant rights and responsible immigration policies. They provide updates on research, fact sheets about immigrants in the United States, and responses to legal activity. Ali Noorani, the executive director, sends daily email updates to subscribers with more news and information, including links to outside articles. You can sign up for Noorani's Notes here, and check out the National Immigration Forum's website here.
5. National Public Radio (NPR): Finally, NPR is a great resource for immigration news. They often have immigration attorneys, CBP employees, and government officials on shows and they are able to provide a wide variety of perspectives and stories. They also have a good ratio of political versus personal stories, mixing the heartfelt with the heartbreaking. You can find some stories here.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of immigration resources; these are simply the ones that COIN uses consistently. We encourage you to check these out if you would like to learn more and to always continue educating yourself. It is important that we pay attention so that we can remain and become compassionate advocates for immigrants and refugees.
Throughout the past few months, stories of the horrors and the politics of family separation and detention have been flooding the media. Every day we see pictures of young children being taken away from their parents and hear accounts of the government's struggles to reunite them again. We also hear that a great number of these families are fleeing El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, coming to the United States border as asylum seekers. For those of us who are not immigration attorneys, "asylum" and the process of attaining it may be misunderstood.
Asylum is a lawful process that allows individuals to seek protection in the United States due to persecution or fear of persecution in their home country. Grounds for asylum include persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. The individual must prove that the government in their country is a perpetrator of the persecution, or is unable to control the persecution or violence. Asylum seekers can only request protection once they have crossed the border; this differentiates their status from refugees, who receive refugee status from the United Nations outside of the country. Generally, individuals only have one year after they enter the country to request asylum.
Not everyone who requests asylum receives it. Those who enter the United States, either at a port of entry or between ports of entry, are apprehended by Border Patrol officers and can request asylum. If their fear of persecution is deemed credible by the CBP officers and an asylum officer they are placed in official asylum proceedings. Otherwise they are removed from the country. Asylum proceedings can take years to conclude and many asylum seekers apply for work authorizations after their case has been pending for 150 days. Those who are eventually granted asylum can then adjust into a legal permanent resident after one year.
There is a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding surrounding the crisis at the border. By educating ourselves on the legal processes that have been put in place to address these issues and by learning more ways to help those in detention and asylum proceedings, we can help change the perception of those who have come to us for protection.
Please note that this is not legal advice.
For some, feeling patriotic may be difficult as of late. There's nothing better to help remedy that than attending a citizenship ceremony on the eve of our country's birth.
Today, as is tradition, 96 individuals hailing from 37 different countries became naturalized citizens at the historic home of Indiana's own president, Benjamin Harrison. Some distinguished guests included Mayor Joe Hogsett, Congresswoman Susan Brooks, and IPS Superintendent Dr. Lewis Ferebee. Judge Sarah Evans Barker presided over the ceremony, sharing a message, loud and clear, to all of the new citizens: "you are welcome."
The ceremony was a celebration of many things; a celebration of family, a celebration of community and openness, and it was a celebration of the founding values of our country. Families cheered for their new citizen and gathered close to take pictures. Children in the crowd were given the role of dispersing flags and welcoming handshakes to each new citizen. Nobody was separated.
The ceremony took place at the home of a President, in a tent on the lawn; as Judge Barker pointed out, there were no walls.
The founding values of our country were present in this and in so much more: new citizens embracing their role in America while bringing their heritage with them, civic groups welcoming and congratulating the crowd and encouraging them to access their rights and privileges as a citizen, and voting registration available right outside the ceremony.
There are many reasons to not want to become a U.S. citizen. There are many reasons to be disappointed in our country, and to want it to be better. Seeing so many individuals make the choice to become a citizen and take on the responsibilities that citizenship entails, despite the flaws of our country and of our people, is a great reminder of the freedoms that our country provides.
It is a great way to celebrate Independence Day.
COIN has gotten many requests from attorneys and other friends who want to help families and other detained immigrants at the border.
Here are two ways you can help:
1. Immigration Justice Campaign
American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), American Immigration Council and the American Immigrant Representation Project's program. For those interested in volunteering - please go to the Immigration Justice Campaign site to find opportunities to plug in and make a difference, in-person or remotely.
2. RAICES -The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services in Texas - Has the following opportunities to learn more or volunteer:
Wednesday June 27th at 6:30PM RAICES is hosting a panel discussion and Facebook LIVE. Titled Families at Risk: Seeking Asylum in the Age of Trump, panel includes experts on the current crisis who will discuss solutions. Register here and join their Facebook page to watch live.
If you would like to be a part of The Canopy: Post-Release Support Program, please sign up here.
If you are an attorney and would like to volunteer, please sign up here.
Here, for general volunteer opportunities:
*Thank you for sharing these opportunities with others who want to help.
Please remember our COIN partners in Indianapolis serving the legal needs of immigrants and refugees: Catholic Charities, Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, Indiana Legal Services, and Exodus Refugee Immigration.
Families belong together. Let's make that message loud and clear.
There's no feeling like hearing someone applying for citizenship say they are doing it so they can vote.
On Saturday, June 2nd, COIN and our partners (Indiana Legal Services, Hope For Tomorrow, Christ Church Cathedral, Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, and Catholic Charities) hosted our second naturalization workshop of 2018. Together with over 20 volunteers we were able to help 40 legal permanent residents apply for naturalization!
A few reasons why we host naturalization workshops:
1. You read it above: voting. No matter who you vote for, the act of voting is as American as apple pie. Voting is another expression of the freedom of speech, allows us to share in our hopes and dreams for our community, and empowers us to share our voice. What a great freedom our citizenship gives us!
2. Naturalization workshops are a need in our community. The Immigrant Integration Plan from the Immigrant Welcome Center shares with us that over 60% of eligible immigrants in Indiana have not yet naturalized. There may be several reasons for a number so high, but there is no denying that low cost, accessible naturalization workshops are a need within the newcomer community.
3. When I said "low cost, accessible naturalization workshop" above, I meant it. The clinics that we have hosted have been free of charge, in a location that is accessible and central to a large number of immigrant families. The cost to apply for naturalization is $725, without added attorney fees or a fee waiver. Naturalization workshops allow families access to attorney review, giving them a sense of security and possibly saving them a large amount of money.
Not everyone will want to become a United States citizen; not everyone will be able to become one. That is fine. We hope that those who do become citizens of the United States feel safe, feel secure, and feel empowered. That is why we host naturalization workshops.
Did you know that Marion County hosts a mental health alternative court for offenders with a diagnosed mental illness? It's true!
Every third Wednesday, the Interfaith Coalition for Mental Health hosts a luncheon to discuss various mental health topics. This month's topic: Marion County's Mental Health courts. These courts exist to help those who either have low-level offenses or misdemeanors in the Psychiatric Assertive Identification and Referral Program (PAIR), or those who have felonies in the Behavioral Health Courts. According to the Marion County Sheriff's Department, around 40 percent of all inmates are identified to have some degree of mental illness; while not all of these inmates enter the mental health courts, those who do receive guidance, resources, caseworkers, and a sense of community. They are given second and third chances, they are trained in job skills and gain increased employability, and they have someone to listen to them, to help them identify triggers and congratulate them on their successes.
The mental health alternative courts not only benefits those who enter them, but also benefits the community as a whole. Making mental wellness a part of the conversation about corrections, allowing growth in those who oftentimes lack the means or structure to acknowledge mental wellness, and increasing capacity, employability, and sense of well-being in those offenders in order to decrease recidivism strengthens the entire community. During this mental health awareness month, let us remember those in prison who struggle with mental illness and let us support them in their effort for health, well being, and growth.
Thank you to the Interfaith Coalition for Mental Health for providing a platform of discussion for these topics.
If you are struggling with your mental health and need resources, please check out our Resources pages to find services.
Every Monday, COIN shares a quote to start the week off. Quotes about immigration, mental health, civil society, and even Hamilton lyrics, have been shared. Each is important and they all relate to COIN's mission, but some weeks the quote hits a little closer to home.
This week's quote, "The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks; the long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep moans round with many voices. Come, my friends, 'tis not too late to seek a newer world" comes from Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses". While this is not a usual source of material for COIN's quotes, with news of the caravan of migrants at our country's border, this quote took on a special meaning.
Several hundred migrants have traveled hundreds of miles as part of a pilgrimage to reach the Mexican-American border in order to seek asylum. Many are escaping violence and persecution in their home; the dangerous journey to America is a way for them to "seek a newer world".
How many of us would have the courage to leave our homes and families, travel across Mexico, and stand on the doorsteps of the world's most powerful country? How many of us would be brave enough to seek a newer world?
Let us continue to act for and with those who are brave enough; not just for those in the caravan, but also those who traveled alone, for the children who made that journey, and for the families, both in America and south of the border. Let us welcome them into a newer world. Let us build a newer world, together.
Click here to learn more about one woman's journey with the caravan.
Last month, COIN hosted a trauma informed care training for our partners and volunteers to learn about the science behind trauma, triggering effects and examples of trauma in immigrants and refugees. In total, we had 25 attendees that included the entire staff from the Center for Victim and Human Rights. As we seek to create a community of care within Central Indiana that is responsive to the needs of our immigrant population, it’s vital to recognize the different types of trauma people have been exposed to in their lives. Understanding the impact of trauma on immigrants is an important first step in building a supportive community. Yet, we must take another step in learning how to recognize and respond to the effects of trauma, which is why we held this training for COIN partners and volunteers.
What is trauma informed care?
Trauma informed care is a treatment framework that includes understanding, recognizing and responding the effects of trauma. Trauma informed care focuses on the physical, psychological and emotional safety of its consumers and providers. Additionally, survivors are empowered and work to rebuild a sense of control that’s often lost due to traumatic experiences.
What makes trauma informed care unique?
Consumers seeking care often encounter services that reflect the control and power experienced in past relationships that caused the initial trauma, increasing the likelihood of retraumatization. Conversely, trauma informed care policies and services use the experiences of trauma survivors to establish mutually beneficial programs that work for both the person seeking services and the provider. Providers in a trauma informed environment guide and support those seeking the services, but also engage in their own self-care practices to manage their own stresses and empathy fatigue.
Why is it important to us?
Immigrants experience trauma in many ways that stem from things like exposure to violence and separation from their home and family members, among other challenges that arise when they get here. Additionally, our country’s current political climate opens up the very real possibility of retraumatization. Trauma isn’t only limited to the individual but also has the ability to affect families and communities. Untreated trauma contributes to impairment of cognitive, social and emotional skills, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, domestic abuse and child abuse. When untreated trauma goes untreated for multiple generations, the entire community pays the price.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please refer to our Programs page to find services that may help you.
Kurt Vonnegut said it all when he said, "the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured."
Vonnegut, who battled loneliness and mental health issues throughout his life, and whose family struggled with similar problems, understood the impact that loneliness and isolation can have on a person. Loneliness does not discriminate; it has been everyone's friend at some point. It is oftentimes the constant companion for many people, including immigrants and refugees whose friends and families are far away.
Many immigrants arrive in the United States to already-established cultural communities; this often helps soften the blow of adjustment to a new home. But this is not a solution and we should not expect it to be the cure to loneliness.
It should be our goal, as people who also experience sadness and isolation and loneliness, to not only provide mental health services for immigrant and refugees to heal from their trauma and understand their grief, but to also help strengthen the communities behind them to relieve their loneliness. To connect them to mental health providers who understand the importance of cultural competency, to make mental health conversations a norm in our own society instead of stigmatizing those who struggle. To lift up all people, regardless of race or country of origin, and let them know that they are not alone.
Loneliness is not inescapable, but community is integral. Only through community, only through each other, can the terrible disease of loneliness be cured.
If you are struggling with your mental health, please refer to our Resources page to find programs that may work for you.