The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) in Texas made headlines this past spring after a California couple, devastated by the viral image of a 2-year-old Honduran girl crying at the U.S. border, created a Facebook fundraiser in the hopes of generating $1,500 to help the nonprofit reunite families. Clearly, the effort struck a chord, as people donated more than $20 million, which RAICES then offered to post bond for detained mothers separated from their children.
These types of Herculean efforts are not uncommon for RAICES: It has been aiding and educating refugees for the past 30-plus years. (Case in point: The organization closed 51,000 cases free of charge in 2017.) Now, as protecting immigrants’ rights becomes more difficult, RAICES is working around the clock to guide people through the system, giving hope to families in their time of darkness.
SARAH VALDES, Supervising attorney in the Children’s Program
Role: I handle my own active cases and help state attorneys in our Austin office.
Motivation: Think about how stressful 9th grade was in general. Now add adapting to a different culture, learning a new language, and being in immigration proceedings — all because you want to live in a safe place.
The issues: Family separation, detention, and how kids are treated at the border have always been the issues, but now everything is being observed publicly. People want to get involved and fight. I want them to stay engaged.
MAYRA JIMENEZ, Children’s Program director and managing attorney
Role: I oversee more than 50 employees in the largest faction of RAICES. We provide legal services to unaccompanied children in court.
Motivation: No one realizes the courage it takes to leave everything you’ve ever known, loved, and worked for just for a chance at something better. Helping vulnerable kids through the immigration system is emotionally draining, but they’re counting on us.
ANGELICA CORONADO, Grants director
Role: I ensure that every RAICES program complies with the terms of its grant.
Motivation: It makes me extremely happy to see that there are a lot of like-minded individuals out there who believe basic human rights are important. You don’t take children away from their parents. You don’t put children through legal proceedings by themselves.
To get involved: If you’re a Spanish-speaking attorney or an experienced legal assistant, offer pro bono representation. If not, donate. Laypeople can also volunteer for local nonprofit immigration legal-service providers. Everything matters, and everything counts.
DAISY HERNANDEZ, DOJ-accredited representative in the Children’s Program
Role: I provide legal advice and represent clients before an immigration judge.
To stay informed: Attend local Know Your Rights presentations, and check out the websites of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [USCIS], Department of Justice, and Immigration Advocates Network for more information.
YVETTE CHANGUIN HUMBLE, Supervising attorney in the Children’s Program
Role: I guide state attorneys in our San Antonio office and also have my own caseload.
Recent challenges: People are more vocal now about their take on immigration, especially on social media. I’ve caught myself typing and deleting responses to negative messages. My job is protecting kids, so in my free time I’m not going to fight on Facebook. I’d rather save that energy for work.
For more stories like this, pick up the September issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download August 10.