GLS has seen a surge of clients in response to the nationwide news of increased immigration raids and deportations. Many clients simply want to make sure their children are safe if ICE detains or deports them. Without a temporary custody order in place, these children can end up in the already burdened foster care system, away from the support of their families and community. The loss of familiarity and change of culture is devastating.
GLS opened a small office in Wimauma on the campus of the Beth-El Farmworker Ministry in January of this year, and in just six months, helped almost 200 clients. The Wimauma community in southern Hillsborough County is 75% Hispanic, and more than a third of residents were born outside of the U.S. With Central American immigrants being targeted for deportation, many residents are turning to GLS for help.
GLS staff have prepared legal documents for immigrant clients to give authority to a trusted caretaker to make school, medical and other decisions for minor children in the event the clients are detained or deported.
Immigration raids force parents to make impossible decisions. If deported, they may have to uproot their children from the only home they know to live in a country where they may not understand the culture or speak the language. Alternatively, some must leave their children in the U.S. in the care of others, and hope that they are loved and cared for. In this current climate, many immigrants live in fear – including those who are here legally. Some have even changed their lifestyles to the point where they are reluctant to leave their houses.
Along with power of attorney preparations, GLS staff are able to help with other immigration matters like U and T Visas, which are specifically for victims of crimes like domestic violence or human trafficking, VAWA Self-Petitions, and Abused Spouse Waivers.
Often individuals believed they came to the U.S. legally, only to find out that they are victims of human trafficking or immigration scams. Others married U.S. citizens or permanent residents but never obtained proper documentation. Sadly, many immigrant spouses become victims of domestic violence but are afraid to report it or leave due to the threat of deportation. These are the clients GLS serves.
“It is our privilege to work with these clients, to witness their resiliency and strength,” said Lisa Murray, Managing Attorney of the immigration unit at GLS. “We are doing everything we can to assist them in obtaining legal status and ensure their families are taken care of.”
GLS attorneys Malvina and Rebecca in front of the Wimauma office
*photo taken by Divya Kumar of the Tampa Bay Times for this article