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Avanza Together Connecting Families Facing Deportation to Resources

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Avanza Together Connecting Families Facing Deportation to ResourcesPhoto by Rick Buchanan.
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Imagine that the only way to save your child was to leave him. For one local family, whose 8-year-old son’s heart condition requires regular surgeries, this is reality. The parents, already targeted for deportation, must choose between taking their son with them, or leaving him in foster care here to get the treatment he needs.

Avanza Together, a six-month-old nonprofit based in Columbus and operating out of Bottoms Up Coffee Co-Op in Franklinton, helps families like this by providing financial, emotional and material support through the traumatizing process of deportation.

“We’re changing the narrative around what deportation looks like,” said Virginia Nunes Gutierrez, co-founder of Avanza Together. “It’s not that big bad gang member that’s trying to sell drugs to your community. It’s that hardworking mom or hardworking dad that came to this country to give their children a better life, and that work hard every single day to be able to do that, but are being targeted and detained.”

Overturning a deportation case takes thousands of dollars and legal representation, resources that are currently limited for the small, young nonprofit. In the short time they’ve been operating, though, they’ve been able to provide necessary assistance to families looking to become citizens and those who are being targeted for deportation.

Another family, whose father was targeted for driving without a license seven years ago, was at a loss when rent was due and groceries were low. Through crowd-funding, Avanza Together was able to provide the mother with that first month’s rent, assist her with food, and supply her with diapers for her four month old.

“When he went to the detention center, she didn’t have the primary breadwinner in the home anymore. So how’s she gonna pay her rent? How’s she gonna buy food? How’s she gonna buy diapers, right?” Nunes said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t change the outcome, but we helped a tragic situation, a very inhumane process, become more humane.”

With the help of the Mosaic Fund for Justice of The Columbus Foundation, Avanza Together was able to employ its first advocate, who engages with families that don’t have a criminal background, and connects them with the social and community resources they need. This could mean anything from translating documents and gathering documentation to apply for citizenship, to providing “Know Your Rights” training and liaising with the Mexican Consulate.

As recently as this week, they’ve expanded their programming to include a volunteer-based mental health counseling service for immigrants, “Because when their families are being torn apart they go through a lot of trauma — especially children.” They accepted their first client on Sunday.

As Avanza grows, they’re looking to add staff members and further the impact of their services. They’d like to bring on a full-time case manager, a full-time advocate, an immigration attorney and a mental health counselor. Right now, they’re actively fundraising to get an immigration lawyer that can work directly with families that have minor children, don’t have criminal background records, and are targeted for deportation, to begin overturning cases.

The statistics reveal the problem to be urgent, even more so than in previous years. In the first half of this year, nearly 10,000 immigrants without criminal background records were detained for deportation. That’s more than double the number for the first half of 2016.

As a grant recipient of the Mosaic Fund for Justice of The Columbus Foundation, Avanza Together was able to officially begin its advocacy, already helping 150 individuals and 11 families. A donation to The Big Give fundraiser  will support Avanza Together and hundreds of other organizations like it.

For more information about Avanza Together, visit avanzatogether.org.

To learn more about The Big Give, visit columbusfoundation.org/giving-events/big-give-2017.

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