Impact and Action: A Look Back at 2021 for RAICES
This past year has made clear that the fight for migrant justice is as urgent as ever, no matter who is in political office. In 2021, the U.S. government forcibly removed 1.28 million people seeking the human right of safety at the country’s borders. Even now, the government continues to deny people the legal right to seek asylum and puts them at increased danger by perpetuating racist and immoral policies like Title 42 and the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). For all those reasons, our fight continues. We are still fighting to get kids out of cages and reunite immigrant families. We are still advocating for citizenship for more than 11 million undocumented people. And we are facing new challenges head on, like the growing Afghan refugee crisis.
At RAICES, we are building a movement for immigrants, by immigrants. Among our current staff leadership, 64 percent either immigrated to the U.S. or self-identify as first generation U.S. citizens from immigrant families; 79 percent self-identify as female and 86 percent as people of color.
For 35 years, the RAICES team has amassed large-scale political power for immigrants by centering the needs and experiences of our immigrant clients through holistic legal and social services, direct representation and litigation, and grassroots organizing and advocacy in Texas, in federal courts across the country, and in the halls of Congress.
Despite ongoing systemic challenges and setbacks throughout 2021, RAICES was able to take important steps toward making our vision of a just and humane immigration system a reality through the support of our community. Thank you for your continued solidarity. As another high stakes year gets underway, we want to share highlights of what we achieved together in 2021, laying the foundation for what we will build together in the months and years to come.
Direct Legal and Social Services
RAICES provides trauma-informed, culturally-sensitive affirmative and defensive legal services to low-income immigrants throughout Texas, including pro-bono representation for detained families and unaccompanied children, removal defense, and residency and citizenship filings. We also provide access to social services like emergency financial assistance, housing, food, clothing, medical care, transportation, safety planning, school enrollment for minors, and ESL tutoring, amongst other core needs.
Recent highlights from these efforts include:
- RAICES launched new protocols designed to increase its impact within low-income immigrant communities, including expanding gratis and pro bono services, growing an office in Laredo, Texas to assist asylum seekers affected by MPP, and pivoting programming priorities in response to changes in asylum, Temporary Protected Status, and refugee designations.
- Our Children’s Program provided Know Your Rights presentations to more than 15,000 minors, most of whom fled Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador due to crime victimization, persecution, and socio-political instability exacerbated by the pandemic and natural disaster.
- Our Removal Defense program guaranteed continued representation in removal proceedings for clients released from ICE custody on bond or recognizance, including representation in applications for employment authorization and continued referrals to social services.
- We are expanding our Affirmative Services for Survivors of Gender-Based Violence to meet the unique challenges faced by immigrants who have suffered crimes such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking.
- We launched a Rural Legal Services program to ensure that access to vital services is not limited to urban markets, and reached 80 small counties throughout Texas with 130 active cases in months.
- Our DACA Fund provided financial assistance for filing fees, counsel on eligibility and procedures for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and policy advocacy and impact litigation. In just over one year, we completed 300 DACA consultations and submitted 169 DACA renewal and initial applications to USCIS, 138 of which have been approved.
- In response to heightened housing and food insecurity within the undocumented community from COVID-19, our Client Financial Assistance program disbursed approximately $160,000 in assistance, which was primarily used for housing and rental assistance, food, and utilities.
- In 2021, our Bond Fund paid approximately $1.2 million in bonds to release 180 immigrants from detention, a third of whom were from Black-majority nations. Freed immigrants with access to legal representation are 40 percent more likely to win their cases. Our data indicates that immigrants from Black-majority nations are detained at disproportionately high rates and faced bonds set at 15 percent higher than average throughout 2021 — reflective of the pervasive racism in our nation’s immigration system.
- Canopy, our national hotline that connects the U.S. immigrant community to local social services, averaged over 400 calls per month in its first year, facilitated approximately 1,200 service referrals, and identified trends including requests for information on immigration legal services, housing assistance, food access, clothing, and healthcare.
The needs and interests of our clients anchor RAICES litigation, organizing, and advocacy priorities. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent change in administrations, the RAICES litigation team has pursued the end of the previous administration’s horrific anti-immigrant policies, including MPP and Title 42, in the federal courts. Unfortunately, these policies continued and even expanded in scope throughout 2021, forcing migrants to stay in Mexico and denying them the right to seek asylum in the U.S. RAICES is fighting back, while continuing our commitment to ensure that the U.S. government can never again separate families as it cruelly did in 2018.
Simultaneously, RAICES seeks systemic change with the understanding that U.S. policies and practices will not advance unless the American people demand it. Through digital organizing, public art installations, and educational video content, we mobilize community members to expand permanent protections for asylum seekers, immigrants, and refugees and to shift the dominant U.S. immigration narrative to one that welcomes, respects, and uplifts immigrants.
Litigation and advocacy campaigns from this past year include:
- Black, Pregnant, and Detained: On March 3, 2021, RAICES, in coordination with the Cameroon American Council, Haitian Bridge Alliance, and UndocuBlack Network, filed a formal complaint for an investigation into inadequate medical care for Black pregnant women, infants, and young children at Karnes County Residential Center.
- Keep the Promise: In April 2021, RAICES launched the Keep the Promise campaign to hold elected officials accountable to their support of immigration reform on the campaign trail and to to uplift, protect, and ensure freedom for all migrants: from detention, from fear of deportation, and to work with dignity. This year, stakeholders have written hundreds of personalized letters on behalf of detained migrants calling for human rights-centered legislation and action at the highest levels of government.
- Title 42 Litigation: The Title 42 policy, announced in March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic, continues to be implemented, blocking immigrants at the southern border from seeking asylum under the xenophobic pretense that they are “introducing” COVID-19 into the country. In response, RAICES and other immigrant organizations sued to prevent the application of this policy to families seeking refuge in the U.S. After we won in the district court, the government asked the D.C. Court of Appeals to keep the policy in place — in violation of U.S. and international law. Our fight for the repeal of Title 42 continues.
- Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) Litigation: In implementing MPP, the U.S. government violated the fundamental statutory and constitutional rights of immigrants and forced families and children into extreme danger. RAICES, along with Immigrant Defenders Law Center, sued the government to prevent MPP from being applied to children and to demand the reinstatement of a fair asylum process for them. However, MPP continues to infringe upon the rights of children who come to the U.S. alone. In response, we recently asked the court for an emergency order to prevent the government’s illegal conduct. We will not relent until children receive the right to a fair asylum process, as enshrined in law.
- Separated Families Litigation: RAICES represents 52 families — more than 100 clients — who were abruptly and illegally separated from one another by the government in 2018. We have filed administrative complaints against the U.S. government and are now preparing to file the cases in federal district courts nationwide. This litigation is intended to hold the government accountable, ensuring that such harm is never again inflicted on immigrant families and that these forcibly separated families receive monetary assistance in recognition of their suffering and trauma.
RAICES’ refugee resettlement program provides pathways for individual and family self-sufficiency through access to legal counsel, case management, housing and food assistance, job and school placement, and healthcare — including in-house mental and behavioral health diagnostic and treatment services. Since the program’s inception in 2017, RAICES has welcomed more than 800 refugees.
In 2021, RAICES:
- Welcomed parents and children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, Myanmar, Sudan, and Afghanistan, 95 percent of whom were Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders.
- Expanded our services to welcome more than 250 Afghan humanitarian parolees, those who left Afghanistan during rapid rescue missions but are without long term status. We partnered with the San Antonio Food Bank to distribute culturally sensitive food and clothing provisions and expanded access to wrap-around legal intake and case management services for this population.
- Increased internal capacity for mental and behavioral health diagnostic and treatment services for refugees, a population already statistically at high risk for depression and suicidal ideation.
- Maintained a regular cadence of family check-ins to ensure that basic needs are met during the pandemic, including control measures to combat food insecurity, coordination with school districts to secure laptops and internet access as well as digital competency training for school-aged children, and SNAP-Ed’s Stay Safe and Healthy to distribute groceries, personal protective equipment, and cleaning supplies.
The Role of Our Community
We at RAICES are immensely grateful for the support and solidarity of our community in bringing our work and our vision to life. Community building is critical in our movement for change, especially as we work under the not-for-profit, philanthropy-underwritten model. When we come together to raise awareness amongst the public, we can make a difference; the law is downstream from the culture shift that we can activate.
Because of our collective advocacy, we are steps closer toward ensuring every person has the freedom to migrate without fear of persecution. Because you engaged with our stories, you have helped to combat false and inhumane narratives around the immigrant experience by amplifying real human stories. Because you made a donation, thousands of immigrants have access to services and resources that keep them safe, supported, and freed.
To create a future where immigrants thrive in the U.S., universal access to legal and trauma-informed social services is needed to pave the way to security and success in court and in this country. All people deserve the right to due process and legal representation, especially underserved unaccompanied children, families, and historically disenfranchised populations who have been forced to flee their home countries to escape threats of violence, government corruption, poverty, economic insecurity, and climate disasters.
Our defense of families is informed by 35 years of experience advocating for and amplifying the needs of the thousands of migrants we are able to serve with your support. We can say with full certainty that there could not be a more urgent time to deepen our resolve in pursuit of migrant justice.
Thank you for being rooted in the values of our community and working with us to re-envision immigration in America.