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The differences lawyers can make through the Lawyers’ Challenge for Children, which funds the Foundation's Children's Legal Services grant program , are long-lasting.
At 16, with her mother no longer able to support her, Xiomara Medrano was living on her own in Tampa, having to balance the responsibility of high school and a waitress job to pay the rent.
Xiomara, a native of El Savador, was afraid to ask for help in fear of being deported because of her undocumented status.
Soon, she found help from her Foundation-funded legal aid attorneys who were able to help her remain in the U.S. legally.
Legal Aid opened the door for Xiomara, who is now a successful college student in Tampa.
Xiomara is just one of nearly 3,000 children helped each year through the Foundation's Children's Legal Services Grants. One hundred percent of your gifts to the Lawyers Challenge for Children go directly to these grants.
How to Make a Gift on Your Florida Bar Fee Statement:
1) Fill in the amount of your tax-deductible contribution to The Florida Bar Foundation on the front of the 2011-12 Florida Bar Fee Statement in the box next to the suggested contribution level of $100. (Larger contributions are most welcome!)
2) Add the amount of the gift to the TOTAL PAID box and include it in the payment total.
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Donate online or send your tax-deductible check payable to: The Florida Bar Foundation, P.O. Box 1553, Orlando, Florida 32802-1553. Please earmark your gift for the Lawyers Challenge for Children.
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Just over a year ago, it seemed the doors of opportunity were always shut to Xiomara Medrano.
With her mother unable to support her, the 16-year-old Tampa high school student was living with strangers, working as a waitress to pay the rent.
She lost her job because of her undocumented status, but she told no one, fearing she would be deported back to her native
Then one day in the middle of a fashion design class at Leto High School,
Medrano broke down in tears.
"I could handle it for a little while. But the day I had to pay the rent was
coming and I didn't have the money," Medrano said.
It seemed another door had been closed until a social worker Medrano met through a high school counselor put her in touch with Gulfcoast Legal Services' Children's Immigration Legal Defense (GLSCHILD) last September. Supplemented with a $72,100 Children's Legal Services grant from The Florida Bar Foundation, GLS CHILD represents immigrant children seeking asylum, as well as those who have been victims of crimes.
"They gave me more freedom and opportunity to be here," Medrano said. Medrano represents thousands of immigrant children who have traveled to
the United States with their families or guardians in hopes of a better life. Some, like Medrano, end up struggling to make it on their own and living in constant fear of deportation. Others fare even worse, falling victim to abuse or neglect.
These children are often detained, then deported back to their home
countries, unaware they are protected by the law and may be able to remain in the United States legally. GLS CHILD is providing a voice for immigrant children who have fallen through the cracks in the Tampa Bay area.
After the program's launch in September 2007, GLS immigration attorney Mariam Ahmedani started looking for potential clients. The following
year she was joined by new GLS attorney Adriana Dinis.
They didn't have to go far.
After contacting The Florida Department of Children and Families, outreach centers, Guardian ad Litem and foster-care programs, and hospitals, the
cases started pouring in. The agencies were aware of the growing number of immigrant children walking through their doors, but had no idea what to do about it.
"No one knew who to call," said Ahmedani, who helped develop the
project. "I imagine this is a problem all over this state. I almost feel we've just scratched the surface."
The two-attorney legal aid team is working through more than 70 cases,
mostly special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS) cases, where the children have been abandoned, abused or neglected, which allows them protection and the right to stay in the United States.
In order to obtain SIJS, a state court must determine that it wouldn't be in
the best interest of the child to continue living with his or her parent(s) or legal guardian(s), nor to be returned to his or her country of origin, Ahmedani said.
Upon such determination, there's a slew of paperwork and forms to fill out
â€” mainly visa applications â€” so the child can obtain legal status. In some cases, the children are adopted or go on to live in
foster care. Still on her own, Medrano has made great progress since she shed tears that day in class and the social worker she now calls her "angel" put her in touch with her attorneys, Ahmedani and Dinis.
At the time, Ahmedani was serving two years at Gulfcoast Legal Services
as an Equal Justice Works Fellow with support from The Florida Bar Foundation. She has since been hired as a staff attorney, and she and Dinis have closed 64 cases through GLS CHILD to date.
An 18-year-old freshman at Hillsborough Community College,
Medrano is living at a women's shelter in Tampa, and she recently landed a part-time job on campus. Having worked since she was a young girl, she enjoys being self-sufficient.
"It's just amazing seeing the smile on these kids' faces when you tell them
they have [legal] status," Ahmedani said. "That they can work, they can go to
school. It's tremendously rewarding.