Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors 

Give Children and Families a Chance!

Give Children and Families a Chance with
Iowa JFON!

Legal Services for Children Fleeing Violence in Central America

Children Fleeing Extreme Violence and Poverty

Last year the U.S. experienced a dramatic increase in the number of unaccompanied children arriving on the southern border. 68,541 unaccompanied children were apprehended by border patrol in the fiscal year 2014. Unlike earlier child migrations, which primarily were from Mexico, most arrivals in 2014 and this year are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.  

These children are fleeing extreme levels of gang violence and deep poverty. Homicide rates in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are respectively ranked the 1st, 4th and 5th highest in the world. Children are the main targets for recruitment and the most likely to be victims of gang violence. Gang violence is driving a substantial exodus to other countries throughout the region and not only to the United States. While the United States is receiving many of the children and families fleeing Central America, other nearby countries are also seeing a drastic increase in the number of Central Americans seeking asylum. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has declared the situation in Central America a humanitarian crisis and in every crisis we all have to do our part.

So far this year 22,869 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended by border patrol. While this number has decreased since last year, there are still significantly more unaccompanied minors arriving to the US than in the years prior to 2014. This drop does not signify a lessening crisis in Central America but rather, the government has attributed this decline in part to Mexico apprehending and deporting more of the children before they get to the United States.

Importance of Immigration Legal Services

Nonetheless, the story is not over for the more than 90,000 children already here. Every child apprehended by border patrol is immediately placed into deportation proceedings. There they have a chance to explain to the judge why they should be allowed to stay in the US. However, children appearing before the immigration court are not provided an attorney. Using a decade's worth of court records, a study performed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University found that whether or not an unaccompanied minor had an attorney was the single most important factor influencing the case's outcome.

  • Without representation, 9 out of 10 children were ordered deported when they appeared in court.
  • In contrast, nearly 75% of children who had representation won their cases and were allowed to remain legally in the US. 

According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, 327 unaccompanied minors have resettled in Iowa since 2014. Many of these children qualify for either Special Immigrant Juvenile Status or Asylum. Many of these cases require a complicated mix of family law and immigration law that few attorneys are willing to undertake. It is even more difficult for unaccompanied minors to find legal representation at a rate they can afford.

About Iowa JFON and Give Children and Families a Chance Goals

Iowa is fortunate to have a faith-driven nonprofit, Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors (Iowa JFON), with experience and expertise in providing first-class, free immigration legal services, education and advocacy to low-income immigrants and refugees regardless of race, gender or religion. Due to tremendous fundraising efforts, Iowa JFON was able to hire an additional attorney and a part-time legal assistant in March of 2015 to work with unaccompanied minors throughout Iowa. Iowa JFON is the main experienced non-profit in Iowa assisting these children at no charge.

Iowa JFON only has funding for this additional attorney for one year. However, each child’s case can take anywhere from 8 months to 2 years or more to complete. Iowa JFON has screened over 105 unaccompanied minors since August 2014, is currently assisting 35 children with complete representation and has placed an additional 11 children with pro bono attorneys thus far. Iowa JFON is well on its way to meeting its goal of assisting 40 children with full representation this year, and 160 minors with screening, consultation or referral to private attorneys.  And most importantly, three children thus far have been allowed to remain legally in the U.S. as a result of Iowa JFON’s representation since March 2015!  Another 32 cases are in the pipeline that should result in positive outcomes within the next two years for the affected children.

Our state should stay true to the history and values of the people of Iowa to protect and care for children and be welcoming to newcomers. In the 1970’s, former Gov. Robert Ray welcomed thousands of Southeast Asians fleeing violence, poverty and the ravages of war. We are called to choose hospitality as our first response, while we eagerly wait for immigration reform and other reforms in U.S. foreign policy towards Central America that address the causes of the current humanitarian crisis.

Granted, these children require many different kinds of support, including access to education, health care, English classes, food, clothing, and housing. But without legal services, they are likely to be deported back to the dangers from which they escaped, and possibly, death.

Iowa JFON is pleased to collaborate with the following organizations to ensure the needs of the migrant children and all immigrants are met, including: LULAC, Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, ACLU of Iowa, Iowa Catholic Conference, Catholic Charities of Des Moines, Catholic Charities of Dubuque, 1000 Kids for Iowa, Des Moines Public Schools, Las Americas United Methodist Church and the National Association of Social Workers-Iowa Chapter, as well as numerous other groups across the state.

With spotty leadership by elected officials in Iowa, it remains up to us - compassionate individuals and leaders – to create welcoming communities and ensure that desperate children seeking protection have access to legal services.

Legal Services for Immigrant and Refugee Families

Of course the vital work of Iowa JFON doesn’t stop there. Iowa JFON also assists low-income immigrants and refugees in a variety of immigration matters that are critical to their ability to remain lawfully in the U.S.  In 2014, Iowa JFON served 822 individuals.  They helped with legal advice and counsel, applications for legal permanent residency, citizenship, and family reunification.  More than one-third of Iowa JFON’s current clients are victims of domestic violence or other crimes, or are refugees escaping persecution in their home countries.  Iowa JFON is currently serving over 500 women and children in their immigration processes.  There is often a 6 month – 1 year wait to get an appointment at Iowa JFON.

Iowa JFON has also been assisting a growing population of refugees from around the world, including many refugees from Africa (particularly Burundi, Sudan, and Somalia) and from Burma.  For example, many Burmese refugees have settled in areas around the Des Moines, Storm Lake, and Columbus Junction clinics. These refugees have escaped relentless persecution in their home countries, and have often spent many years in United Nations refugee camps around the world before finally being allowed to resettle in the US. Refugees are given 3 months of financial aid, orientation, and job placement assistance but after that, they are on their own.  Refugees are also required to file an application for permanent residency after their first year in the U.S., and are allowed to apply for citizenship after five years. However, the government offers them no assistance in working their way through the complicated immigration forms and required legal procedures.  Iowa JFON assists many of these and other refugees in applying for their permanent residency and citizenship, and continues to seek ways to increase our capacity to serve particularly vulnerable populations. 

In order to continue assisting current and new children arriving in Iowa, as well as immigrants and refugees, we need your help!  The goal for the 2016 Give Children and Families a Chance legal services project is $100,000.  Iowa JFON requests your generous donation to ensure that desperate children and families seeking protection continue to have access to legal services, the chance to reunify with their families and the opportunity for a better life in America.  We should act with care and compassion toward children and families fleeing persecution and harm.  And as Iowans, we should stay true to our history and values that uphold human rights, due process and welcome newcomers to our state. 

How You Can Help

Please consider a most generous financial gift to help Iowa JFON give children a chance by expanding its ability to provide free legal immigration counsel and representation to low income refugees, immigrants and their families. We depend on friends like you to protect and care for the children in our custody and to ensure they receive the legal protections and rights to which they are entitled by U.S. law. 

Iowa JFON’s Circle of Friends is organizing a benefit, Give Children and Families a Chance, to expand immigration legal services for the children feeling violence in Central America.  

Please join us to Give Children and Families a Chance!

See the Donate Now page for donation instructions

Click HERE to Donate Online

Questions? Contact Alicia Claypool at 515-988-5831 or

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