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~This web series takes a deep dive into the Tahirih Justice Center’s challenging yet rewarding work, and the champions who show up day after day to get it done.~

 

In addition to providing legal and social services to women and girls fleeing violence, Tahirih’s Houston office, opened in 2009, is strategically located to protect unaccompanied children crossing the southern border and represent women and children who are subjected to prolonged detention in Texas. The Houston team, made up of dedicated and hardworking individuals who work every day to create a more equal and just world, includes Children’s Legal Advocate and DOJ Fully Accredited Representative, Guadalupe Fernández.

Guadalupe began working with migrant children in 2014 during the “unaccompanied minors’ surge”, when tens of thousands of children, mostly from Central America, crossed the southern border. The unprecedented swell in children seeking protection created not only a humanitarian crisis, but a serious legal challenge as well. The rapid increase in migrants in removal proceedings overwhelmed the United States’ immigration courts and exasperated the need for housing those seeking safety.  It also created an enormous need for legal representation for unaccompanied minors. Guadalupe eagerly stepped up to help. For a year, as the Lead Legal Caseworker for the Child Advocacy and Legal Services Program at Catholic Charities, she conducted intakes and provided legal presentations and case management assistance for detained and released unaccompanied minors in removal proceedings.

The “surge” also highlighted deficiencies in organizations serving newly arrived migrant children. For example, many immigrant groups working with unaccompanied minors focused exclusively on providing legal services, while ignoring basic needs such as education, housing, counseling, and medical services. When Guadalupe was introduced to Tahirih, she immediately saw it was different.

“Tahirih was one of the first organizations to recognize the need for a holistic model that addresses both the social and legal needs of survivors through the delivery of culturally sensitive and trauma-informed services.”

Guadalupe’s strong connection to the immigrant justice movement, most specifically migrant children’s experiences, didn’t start in 2014 – it can be traced all the way back to her upbringing as a daughter of immigrants. Both of Guadalupe’s parents were minors when they migrated to Chicago for better opportunities. Growing up, Guadalupe witnessed her parents’ struggle and strength as immigrants. When she was in college, her parents finally realized the American dream by opening an ethnic grocery store in rural Louisiana that not only provided access to Latin food, but also served the new immigrant community by helping Spanish-speaking individuals with translation, finding jobs, and connecting them with their surroundings. Guadalupe witnessing immigrants helping immigrants made such a strong impression on her that she has dedicated her life to giving back, and she believes those experiences make her a better advocate for immigrant women and children.

With Tahirih since 2015, Guadalupe works with migrant children and their families to ensure that their legal and social services needs are met and conducts legal screenings and provides legal advice and representation to survivors so they can be empowered to make informed decisions concerning their immigration status. She also engages in outreach, training, and advocacy in the Houston community.

“My most rewarding experiences are centered on hearing survivors’ stories and experiences in their own words and connecting with them. Then, explaining processes so they can make informed decisions about how to continue with their lives in the aftermath of violence. Survivors’ courage and resiliency keep me going.”

Guadalupe believes that the concept of intersectionality is crucial for combating any form of social injustice. Undoubtedly, Tahirih looks at immigration issues through a gender lens by recognizing that women and men experience violence differently.

“Tahirih is strategically positioned to fight for liberation and equality while considering the intersection of gender and immigrant status. If we work together as survivors and advocates, and recognize and build on the work done before us, we will come closer to not just ending violence against women but ensuring equality for all.”

Thank you, Guadalupe, for advocating on behalf of immigrant women and children fleeing violence. Your understanding of and passion for the work is truly inspiring.

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