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Marin earmarks money for immigrant youths

September 3, 2023

By Richard Halstead| Marin Independent Journal

Marin County supervisors have approved the use of more than $632,000 in state funds to provide services to recently arrived immigrant youths, most from Central America.

The two-year contracts are being funded with tax revenue from the Mental Health Services Act. The contracts include Bay Area Community Resources at $332,726; Huckleberry Youth Programs, $154,600; North Marin Community Services, $133,446; and Canal Alliance, $11,650.

Benita McLarin, director of the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in a staff report to the supervisors that the contracted services “are designed to intervene early to address the emotional, social and physical needs of recently arrived immigrant youth by assessing, actively linking to school and community resources and providing targeted mental health support to students and their families.”

North Marin Community Services in Novato will provide a bilingual Latino youth wellness coordinator to provide outreach to newcomers at Novato High School, San Marin High School, Sinaloa Middle School and San Jose Middle School.

“As an immigrant, I know how challenging it is to move and start over again in a new country,” said Maria Jaramillo-Botero, who oversees the program at North Marin Community Services. “This program provides an overview of different laws that are here in this country, different regulations that we don’t have in our countries in Latin America. We also talk very openly about sexual education, substance use, separation and reunification.”

The county health department has a three-year plan for using Mental Health Services Act revenues.

“The urgency of addressing the unique mental health and related challenges that newcomers face is underscored by the current political climate and recent trends that show a significant increase in the numbers of newcomers in Marin County schools,” the plan says.

Government officials typically use the term “newcomer” when referring to recently arrived immigrant youths.

“According to school district enrollment data, in 2019 alone, more than 400 newcomers entered San Rafael and Novato Unified secondary schools, with hundreds more at schools throughout the county,” the report says. “This unique, vulnerable population is at heightened risk for school drop-out, homelessness and long-term mental health challenges.”

Cecilia Perez, director of English learner programs at San Rafael City Schools, said 797 newcomers enrolled from 2020-21 to 2022-23. Perez said so far this school year another 120 newcomer students have enrolled.

Leslie Benjamin, a spokeswoman for the Novato Unified School District, said 810 newcomers enrolled over the past three years, including 90 so far this year.

Many of Marin’s newcomers are immigrant youths who sought asylum at the border or entered the United States unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, usually with the help of a smuggler.

According to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, between Oct. 1, 2022, and the end of July, 234 unaccompanied immigrant children were released to sponsors in Marin County.

Marin’s numbers are on par with counties with far larger populations and more resources. During the same 10-month period, 304 unaccompanied children were released to sponsors in San Francisco, 399 in Santa Clara County, 422 in Contra Costa County and 255 in San Diego County.

During the 2022 fiscal year, 382 unaccompanied immigrant children arrived in Marin, compared to 246 the year before.

Nationally, the number of unaccompanied youths arriving in the U.S. has increased dramatically since 2012.

According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, during the nine years prior to 2012, fewer than 8,000 unaccompanied youths entered the country annually. In 2012, the number increased to more than 13,000. By 2019, the number had grown to over 69,000. Then in 2021 — after an exception to Title 42 was granted for unaccompanied youths —  the number leaped to 122,731. In 2022, the number was 128,904.

Title 42 was a public health order originally enacted under the Trump administration that allowed U.S. authorities to send immigrants quickly back to Mexico or, in some cases, their countries of origin.

The unaccompanied immigrant youths arriving in Marin are coming because they have someone such as a family member or family friend sponsoring them.

When unaccompanied minors are taken into custody, they are housed initially in detention centers run by the U.S. Border Patrol. By law, they are supposed to be moved to a shelter system operated by the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours.

Many immigrant minors have a family member or friend in the United States who is willing to serve as their sponsor, and they are typically allowed to leave the shelter and live with that person while they await immigration proceedings.

Canal Alliance provides legal representation to unaccompanied minors seeking to remain in the United States.

“We are the only organization in Marin County providing immigration representation,” said Joana Castro Simonini, Canal Alliance’s director of immigration legal services. “We are not currently able to serve all of them. Our current capacity is 85 cases per calendar year.”

Simonini said that the ages of the people Canal Alliance represents range from 4 to 26, but the majority of its clients are between 16 and 21.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement reports that 47% of unaccompanied immigrant minors who entered the country in the 2022 fiscal year were from Guatemala, 29% were from Honduras and 13% were from El Salvador. Simonini said a majority of the youths coming to Marin are also from Guatemala.

Edith Jimenez, a Canal Alliance lawyer, said that unaccompanied minors typically seek to remain in the U.S. by either seeking political asylum or by asserting that they have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their parents or a guardian.

Jimenez said neglect is the most typical assertion and includes cases where the parents lacked sufficient resources to provide for their children.

“If they had to stop going to school and start working at a very young age,” Jimenez said. “Or if their parents weren’t able to protect them from gang violence or recruitment. Sometimes the parents just don’t have enough money or resources.”

Jimenez said Canal Alliance has recently received a three-year grant through the Office of Refugee Resettlement that will allow it to double the number of unaccompanied youths it represents annually, to 170.

When the Biden administration allowed Title 42 to expire for all immigrants in May, Omar Carrera, the chief executive officer of Canal Alliance, wrote in a blog, “The current humanitarian crisis on our southern border is the result of incredibly complex issues including climate change, political corruption, poverty, violence and foreign policy decisions.”

“I believe in the value of appropriate screenings at our borders, yes,” he said. “I also believe that migration and asylum-seeking are fundamental human rights.”

Read this story on the MarinIJ

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