When President Obama implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, thousands of young undocumented immigrants became hopeful, as DACA would offer temporary relief from deportation and provide work authorization in the United States. As nonprofits across the nation geared up to help those eligible apply for relief, one community needed a little more support. During this time, immigrants in California’s San Joaquin Valley were filing significantly low numbers of DACA applications, despite having an estimated population of 900,000 immigrants. At the time, there was only 8-9 DOJ accredited representatives and one part-time attorney in the area, said Jesus Martinez, executive director of the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative. With the limited number of local and affordable immigration legal providers, coupled with mistrust and confusion in the community on eligibility and requirements, local immigrants potentially eligible for DACA were not applying. To address this challenge, and with support from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a diverse set of organizations joined forces to promote DACA and assist potential applicants, creating the Central Valley DACA Collaborative.
The initial work on DACA established a model of regional coordination and collaboration. However, the scope of work had to be expanded in response to the possibility of Congress passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013 that could potentially benefit hundreds of thousands of Central Valley immigrants. It was clear to local organizations that, while the immediate needs for DACA recipients were being met, there were still substantial gaps in services to support the overall immigrant community. In response to broadening their efforts, steps were taken that led to the establishment of the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative, or CVIIC.
In October 2013, community leaders and local partner organizations came together to develop a strategic plan designed to strengthen the immigration legal infrastructure in the region. The plan was developed by a team of researchers, led by noted researcher, Manuel Pastor. The plan identified four main priorities, which included strengthening regional organizational capacity, delivering services to rural and urban communities, conducting community outreach and education, and advocating at the local, state, and federal levels. The plan was presented to partner organizations on Feb. 26, 2014, and CVIIC was officially created that day.
Over the years, CVIIC has worked to establish numerous partnerships with nonprofits, pro-bono legal providers, community-based organizations, health clinics and adult education programs to serve and empower the immigrant community. Through this model of regional coordination and collaboration, partner organizations and CVIIC were scheduling over 100 free legal workshops per year in rural and urban communities. The CLINIC affiliate, who joined the network earlier this year, is working towards applying for DOJ Recognition and Accreditation, increasing the number of qualified providers available to support and provide affordable and quality immigration legal services to the community.
In addition to enhancing immigration legal services, CVIIC is actively involved in promoting the economic wellbeing of immigrant families. This is done through the Immigrant Entrepreneurs program created in Fall 2020 in collaboration with nonprofit and public sector partner agencies. The program offers self-employment and entrepreneurship training opportunities to low-income Latino immigrants. Each year, the program recruits two cohorts of 40 participants. One cohort receives weekly trainings during the fall and winter quarters, while the second cohort has classes in the spring and summer quarters. A key feature of the program is the intensive personalized assistance provided to participants to help develop their respective entrepreneurial projects. At the end of the first year, almost 30 participants had obtained their business licenses, while others were in the process of securing needed professional licenses.
In its second year, the Immigrant Entrepreneurship program expanded, as part of a longer-term process of developing an Immigrant Entrepreneurship Hub. In addition to this project, CVIIC has also collaborated with Immigrants Rising on promoting the state of California-funded SEED program, which provides training and grants of $5,000 or $10,000 to immigrant entrepreneurs. To date, over 50 individuals assisted by CVIIC have been approved for SEED grants. CVIIC has also joined the Build Within Alliance and is collaborating with Santa Clara University and Fresno State University to increase entrepreneurial opportunities to Central Valley immigrants. Lastly, CVIIC is collaborating with Welcoming America to implement a version of the One Region Initiative piloted in the Atlanta metropolitan area in order to offer a regional approach to immigrant integration policies.
CLINIC applauds the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative for their ongoing efforts to create a just and inclusive community.
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