Blog: Amplify

Los Angeles County Responds to the Humanitarian Crisis of Refugee Children at the U.S. Border


This post is part of the #CF100 Series of blog posts. The Council on Foundations is marking the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first community foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, by highlighting the roles of community foundations with this series.

See where it all began at our
Fall Conference for Community Foundations in Cleveland this October!

A Conversation with Steve Reyes
Senior Advisor of the California Community Foundation’s Our Children Relief Fund

On a busy Monday morning, attorney and community advocate Steve Reyes arrives for his first day on the job. Already there are back-to-back meetings and everyone on staff seems to need a few minutes to talk with him. Steve’s job, directing California Community Foundation’s (CCF) newly-created Our Children Relief Fund, leaves him little time to get settled in.

Much is to be done to map out the strategic grant-making for the fund, which is aimed at addressing some of the most urgent needs for the increase in migrant refugee children coming to Los Angeles. CCF recently granted an initial $220,000 from the fund to three non-profits in Los Angeles County to support legal services and community response workers. With the generous help from donors, CCF will increase its support to local nonprofit organizations that are impacted by the crisis.

Daria Teutonico of the Council on Foundations caught up with Steve to ask him about the fund and his insights on Los Angeles County’s readiness for the migrant children.

Council:

Can you tell us about this situation?

SR:

Since the fall of 2013, an estimated 65,000 unaccompanied migrant children -- some younger than five years old -- have arrived at our Southwestern borders seeking help. Increasingly, they are fleeing life-threating violence in their home countries. The majority are from Central America’s northern triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Many are targeted by drug cartels and gangs and tragically, many have witnessed terrible violence and or have been victims themselves. As the President has said, this is a humanitarian crisis.

Council:

Why is Los Angeles County the destination for a significant number of these children?

SR:

Los Angeles County is home to 463,231 immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Many of the young children and youth are being placed with family members who will care for them while their legal cases are reviewed.

Council:

What sorts of grants will you be making through this fund?

SR:

We will be connecting funds to on-the-ground providers who are focused on the urgent needs of this young refugee population. Among their most pressing needs is legal counsel. Currently, many of these children are appearing in front of an immigration judge without legal representation and facing a government immigration attorney whose job it is to deport them back to the counties from which they fled. We know that without attorneys, 90 percent of these children will be sent back to a very dangerous and violent future.

Additionally, many of the children have experienced untold violence and trauma and will need appropriate counseling. We have experts ready to provide services and we need to reach out to let families know of the availability of these and other important services. It would be a shame if after this long journey the children languish because they are unaware of appropriate help in the community. In addition to other needs, we hope to see these kids integrated into our communities while they wait to appear in court and tell their stories.

This is the most vulnerable and pivotal moment in these children’s lives. Our mandate here at CCF is to respond to the needs of Los Angeles County. This is certainly a compelling moment.

Council:

How large is the fund to date and what is the plan for its growth?

SR:

We have raised close to $450,000 and we will continue seeking funds to meet the need.

Council:

How large a role will L.A. County play in taking in these kids?

SR:

We don’t know at the moment, however, we are told that in the coming months as the weather cools and it is less dangerous to cross the desert, the Federal government anticipates that 90,000 children to will have arrived at our borders by the end of this year. The Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency within the federal Department of Health and Human Services, is currently seeking to provide temporary shelters in our County and elsewhere as a result. Our local nonprofit organizations are also gearing up and plan to respond accordingly.

Council:

How will you prioritize the grants you make from this Fund and what type of expertise is available here in our community?

SR:

We are collaborating with our other local philanthropic colleagues and many local leaders to ensure our investments are strategic and meeting the needs of these children. Los Angeles County has deep experience working with refugee populations; there are also many in the field who bring cultural competence to this work so we have some excellent organizations with whom we can partner.

Council:

Can you tell us something about your background that will help you be effective in this role?

SR:

I grew up in L.A. and entered UCLA as an aspiring historian and later, studied here to be a lawyer. Since an early age, my parents demonstrated the importance of giving back. Quiet activists themselves, they instilled in me a compassion for helping others. In addition to my family, I have been fortunate to have some pretty amazing mentors. I clerked for New Mexico State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Baca, worked for MALDEF, a civil rights law firm on voting rights and redistricting litigation, worked in private law practice, and most recently, as a legislative health deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina. Through these experiences, I’ve learned the importance of incorporating data analysis into a larger framework that includes collaboration with diverse groups and sectors to bring about the best results. As a lawyer and advocate, I’ve worked with various immigrant communities, the business sector, and government agencies. I have learned a great deal how to get things done and I have tremendous respect for those who work tirelessly on the front lines each day to help others.

Council:

How will you know if you have really helped these children?

SR:

CCF will be monitoring its grant-making and evaluating the results. We will be looking at both the numbers and the impact for these children. I think the timing for helping is right now. Children who have experienced trauma need experts to help them get through their pain. If left unattended, their suffering will continue. We also have an opportunity to serve as a resource for Los Angeles County as it gears up for another wave of refugee children and I am confident our community will come together effectively to help.

Council:

What is one of your biggest takeaways since joining CCF?

SR:

I am heartened and amazed by the outpouring of support for this Fund to date. We are a community that truly cares and I think we will be able to help these children. America is at its best when it takes care of those who are vulnerable and in need. At this time, we need to come together and our community is doing this. I’m proud to be a part of this effort.

For more information or to donate, please visit the Our Children Relief Fund webpage.

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