MIRA Coalition receives AmeriCorps grant to provide legal services to Central American children

In partnership with Greater Boston Legal Services, will provide technical assistance for 12 AmeriCorps attorneys and three paralegals at legal service organizations statewide

BOSTON, September 25, 2014 – On September 12, at the 20th anniversary celebration of the AmeriCorps network, President Obama announced the launch of “justice AmeriCorps,” a new public service program that will provide legal services to unaccompanied children in immigration courts across the country.

This week, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) was informed that it has received a $298,350 grant to create and implement that program in Massachusetts.

Working in partnership with the Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), which will provide technical assistance, MIRA will recruit, train and place 12 AmeriCorps attorneys and three AmeriCorps paralegals at legal service organizations across the state, to provide legal assistance to unaccompanied children under the age of 16 who will appear before the Boston immigration court in Fiscal Year 2015.

There are an estimated 1,115 children who were released to sponsors in Massachusetts between January 1 and August 31, according to the Administration for Children and Families. The justice AmeriCorps award is the second AmeriCorps grant that MIRA has been involved with: now in its fourth year, the New American Integration Program, which MIRA manages in partnership with the Office for Refugees and Immigrants, places AmeriCorps members with 30 organizations serving immigrants and refugees.

“We are thrilled that MIRA has been selected to administer this very important new AmeriCorps program in Massachusetts,” said Emily Haber, CEO of the Massachusetts Service Alliance. “The need to support these vulnerable children is so high and we are confident that MIRA has the skills and partnerships to effectively engage AmeriCorps members in addressing this need.”

MIRA sought to extend its experience with AmeriCorps in response to the dramatic increase of unaccompanied children who have crossed the U.S. border fleeing violence in Central America. These children are temporarily resettled with friends and families by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, with cases heard in regional immigration courts.

In Greater Boston and statewide, the region’s pro bono legal system has been strained by the influx of children who are staying with friends or family while their cases are processed in the Boston court. This justice AmeriCorps grant will increase the effective and efficient adjudication of their immigration proceedings.

"Can you imagine being a 12 or 13-year-old child who's gone through a violent ordeal having to explain your story to an immigration court, with a government lawyer opposing you?" MIRA Executive Director Eva Millona said. "We are greatly heartened that this grant will allow us to place 12 AmeriCorps attorneys and 3 paralegals in Massachusetts legal services organizations to work exclusively with these children, so they can have their cases justly heard."