Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Manuel Santamaria, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives & Grantmaking
If you live in Silicon Valley, chances are you regularly interact with someone who was not born here. In San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, nearly half of our workforce is foreign-born and close to two-thirds of those under the age of 18 are the children of immigrants. Immigrants have been critical in our region’s development, and are essential to its continued success. That is why Immigration is a core grantmaking strategy for SVCF.
Over the past seven years, SVCF has provided funding to more than 30 organizations that assist Silicon Valley residents with immigration legal services. Many Silicon Valley immigrants are highly skilled workers who can afford legal services and attorneys; but even in the best of situations, many legal processes -- adjusting immigration status, applying for citizenship, obtaining a work permit, or managing myriad immigration law matters -- can be full of delays and prohibitive expenses.
For instance, the current legal permanent residency process can take years to complete and can cost a family an average of $1,500 - $3,000 per person. That is in addition to the already enormous cost of living in Silicon Valley, which has the most expensive and fastest-rising median housing prices of any key innovation region in the country.
There are also thousands of disadvantaged, low-income immigrants and refugees in our community. These immigrants are not only challenged by the costs of immigration legal services, but are also targeted by fraudulent notarios (public notaries) and immigration consultants who prey on newcomers by selling false promises of citizenship or work permits. Nonprofit immigration legal service programs devote a significant portion of program time to correcting mistakes of unauthorized practitioners and reaching out to immigrants with correct information and opportunities.
In an era when policymakers are constantly arguing over immigration strategies and states are taking their own steps to fill in the gaps, everyone is looking for reliable information. A 2007 survey of 64 legal service providers in Northern California revealed that these agencies are providing services to 8,000 individuals, barely 10 percent of all individuals eligible for immigration status adjustment. In addition, few of the thousands of Asian immigrants who are eligible for relief under the DAPA / DACA programs have applied. Legal services organizations, despite their high caseloads, are constantly partnering to reach out to new clients and immigrants who are not aware of their eligibility for immigration relief programs.
It is clear that Silicon Valley immigrants are looking for professional guidance, representation and assistance with their legal needs. To meet the needs created by future legalization reforms, legal services agencies will need to expand their services by three- or four-fold. SVCF’s Immigration strategy brings together a number of local organizations to share best practices, formalize their networks and increase their collective impact. This means everything from holding joint immigration workshops to creating a joint online database – CONEC – for volunteers who can supplement their work.
At SVCF, we believe that access to affordable and reliable immigration legal services enables large numbers of immigrants to obtain legal status that can lead to better jobs, family unification, health care, increased educational opportunities for children and adults, and fuller participation in community life. These are the building blocks of a strong community and healthy society in Silicon Valley.
Are you an immigrant living in Silicon Valley? Join us in celebrating Immigrant Heritage Month in June, and share your story at http://welcome.us/
To learn more about SVCF’s immigrant legal services grants and grantees, see http://www.siliconvalleycf.org/immigration-integration