By Robert Painter, Director of Pro Bono Programs & Communications, American Gateways
In early 2017, American Gateways opened a full-time office in Waco, Texas to provide immigration legal services to the Waco and McLennan County immigration community. This decision was driven by a well-documented need for immigration legal services in the region. As an organization focused on serving survivors of crime and violence, we quickly learned that there was also a need within the Waco immigrant community for more holistic services, ranging from counseling and education, to health care and financial literacy training. Therefore, after consultations with other regional service providers, American Gateways helped establish the Waco Immigrant Resource Task Force in November 2017. The task force’s mission is to work with other Waco area providers to identify services available for noncitizens, and collaborate to address gaps in those services.
Since our first meeting, the task force has flourished. We now have nearly 30 member organizations and have identified three goals for 2018:
- Build a resource directory focused on language access and other services available to noncitizen community members
- Encourage Waco ISD to develop a uniform policy allowing undocumented parents to enter local schools to meet with teachers, have lunch with their kids, and volunteer
- Create regular trainings on immigration issues for local service providers
American Gateways has been striving toward achieving the third goal by creating a monthly webinar series. We hosted the first webinar in April to provide service providers with an overview of the immigration system and the effects state and local policies have on immigrants in our community. We have coordinated with area experts to schedule future webinars in a variety of areas relevant to providers working with noncitizens. For example, Family Health Center of Waco recently presented on local medical services available to noncitizens. In June, a therapist with MHMR Waco discussed trauma and mental health issues related to immigration. Later in the summer, a recruiter with McLennan Community College will present on challenges facing undocumented students hoping to go to college. This series is vital to ensuring that immigrants in our community are not excluded from community resources.
American Gateways is a 501(c)(3) non-profit based in Austin, Texas. Our mission is to champion the dignity and human rights of immigrants, refugees and survivors of persecution, torture, conflict and human trafficking through exceptional immigration legal services at no or low cost, education and advocacy.