Who will be helped?

The Land of Opportunity Fund’s two initiatives, El Camino and Immigration Legal Services (ILS)addresses two groups of immigration consumers, coming from the same community of documented and undocumented residents.

The first is the audience of immigrant residents who would be considered to be “tech-savvy,” comfortable and accustomed to using devices to access the internet –mobile, tablets, laptops and computers. They are literate, may have been highly educated in their native country, or may be DACA students (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) – our high school valedictorians and college students who have lived here their whole lives. They are used to finding products and services on the internet rather than through friends and family.  Demographically they are diverse, ranging in age from less than 10 years old to adult, and include professionals such as teachers or business professionals or business owners, and many have been residing in the region for a lengthy period of time. In Florida, 86.8% of children with immigrant parents were considered “English proficient” as of 2009.

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The second group represents the most underserved population of immigrants: those who are newly arrived, whose English is limited, and who may be eligible for asylum claims or are facing deportation. Many in this group have no local family or friends. And without contacts to help direct their assimilation, they may have been badly served by unethical immigration attorneys or notarios who require exorbitant fees and produce no results or worse, place their clients in jeopardy. Fearing arrest or detainment from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), some members in this group are subject to victimization through extortion, unsafe housing, wage theft, and domestic violence, as their abusers can hold the threat of deportation over them.

Representative stories of the plight of individuals in Southwest Florida help to demonstrate the problem. Many are running from gangs in El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala and are seeking asylum; others want a better, safer life for their family. Some are well-educated, successful business and land owners. Many of these men and women had careers in their home country –teachers, civil servants, doctors. Many came here legally with documentation and found the rules later changed. Some overstayed and have become “illegals.” All were employed in some capacity and paid taxes here. Almost all endured a 10+ year long process prior to achieving either permanent residence status or citizenship.

Each story is different –about how and why they arrived, and about how they are seeking to assimilate in their new nation.

  • One completed a four year, mostly walking trek from El Salvador through Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico and had horrific experiences with expediters and ICE.
  • One had to turn down a full scholar-athlete scholarship because of documentation snafus.
  • One was an organic chemistry professor in Haiti and is now a server in a gated community restaurant.
  • One is facing deportation, despite a long term job and having started his own business.
  • One was beaten by gangs in El Salvador and threatened with death. ICE raided his home and took him from his screaming wife and new baby. When he asked for asylum he was finally granted “prosecutorial discretion” in a detention center and allowed to go home.

Every single one is grateful for the help of strangers during their journey and after their arrival. Each one has a bad luck story of a costly experience with an attorney where either nothing was accomplished to help their advancement, or worse, due to an error by a neglectful attorney, resulted in a setback in their process that cost them time and money.

And regardless of their plight to reach our region, a constant theme among almost all is underemployment.