Locals discuss aiding refugee children

BY ADAM JACOBS | AUGUST 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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Numerous organizations around Iowa are working to provide housing for 1,000 child refugees, and one group in Iowa City is taking part in the initiative.

1,000 Kids For Iowa held an open meeting Wednesday to establish a network of local residents willing to open their homes to refugee children from Central America.

Approximately 650 people have signed up in support of the organization. Of those people, 270 homes have offered up housing.

Carolina Warren-Collison, an Iowa City resident and a Guatemala native, said she felt a close connection with the refugees in need, most of whom fled from Guatemala.

“I was wondering, ‘Are they my family, are they here?’ ” Warren-Collison said. “I would definitely be willing to house a child. How could you say no to these children?”

At the meeting, people discussed the harsh reality that there is no guarantee the federal government will allow the refugee children to stay and whether the government will accept the claims for asylum.

Dan Vondra, an immigration-law attoney at Cole & Vondra Partners in Iowa City, said that of the claims the government considerers legitimate for asylum, fleeing from gang violence is not one.

That is the main reason children are fleeing Central America.

University of Iowa law Associate Professor Stella Elias said gaining asylum can be a challenge.

“In order to get asylum, you have to demonstrate you’ve been persecuted in the past or will be in the future based on your race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or origination with a particular social group,” she said.  “Being threatened by gangs is often not enough.”

Housing the refugees is priority, but 1,000 Kids For Iowa is working in conjunction with other organizations to facilitate the children in other ways.

“That is part one, [and] the other part is finding other resources for these kids in the state,” said Jessica Brackett, a project director for 1,000 Kids For Iowa.

Elias, along with the Caring Cities Campaign, aims to provide the refugees with legal representation.

She was approached by Caring Cities Campaign to train active attorneys in immigration law pro-bono. 

“We are the university, and we had a call from the community for help to train lawyers,” Elias said.

The training time will depend on the credentials of the participants, but she estimates it will only take one session lasting for a few hours.

Currently, she is reaching out to lawyers willing to both teach and participate in these classes but has found none so far.

Elias said that so far, there have been 175 juvenile cases in Iowa, and only 64 of those cases had lawyers.

Nationally, 47 percent of child refugees who had attorneys were found to have valid claims and were allowed to stay. Of those who had a lawyer, only 10 percent were allowed to stay.  

Brackett stressed the need to find a local organizing committee for the organization. She plans to reach out to local churches and businesses for support in their cause. In the United States, seven states have reached out to 1,000 Kids For Iowa to replicate their initiatives.

“We need to get these kids into safe homes,” Brackett said. “Placing them in a large storage warehouse is just not enough.”

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