Picture a new immigrant to the United States, suggests Heidi Barbera-Parra.
Say this person is from El Salvador, and has no formal education. They’re in the U.S., and they don’t know how to write or read, but they still need to navigate the immigration system, they still need to know what to bring to a court hearing. Often, if they have to sign documents, they’ll need an interpreter to explain what’s being signed and why.
“We help them, explain to them in the most simple way how the immigration legal system works for them,” said Barbera-Parra, director of programs at DEAR Foundation.
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This is one of the gaps the Raleigh nonprofit helps bridge. The DEAR Foundation (DEAR stands for Development, Empowerment, Action, Relief) provides pro bono or affordable legal services to the immigrant community, but also helps educate newcomers to the U.S. in navigating the systems of their new country or in seeking justice.
“It depends on the needs that the community has,” said Barbera-Parra.
As an immigrant herself, she has seen these needs from both sides. In her native Venezuela, Barbera-Parra was a journalist. After writing investigative articles about the Hugo Chavez administration, she found herself persecuted by the government and sought political asylum in the United States. Her back story is just one among many, however: a variety of desperate situations can cause an immigrant to flee their home country for the U.S.
“We work with cases that the minor was abandoned by father and mother in the home country and, given their background, we know the client can apply for special immigrant juvenile status,” Barbera-Parra says. In these proceedings, it’s better for the child to stay in the U.S. than to return to a situation of abandonment, neglect or abuse.
We are working to start next year a program to help immigrant minors [who] have good grades and they don’t have the money to apply or get legal status.
Heidi Barbera-Parra, director of programs at DEAR Foundation
In some cases, DEAR Foundation helps immigrants living in the U.S. seek justice. In one case, Barbera-Parra recalled, a girl had been raped by her stepfather. The mother found out, but was afraid to call the police – that, and she simply didn’t know how. DEAR Foundation made the call and provided an interpreter for this non-English speaking client so the police could take the report.
“We advocate for domestic violence victims and we help them,” Barbera-Parra said.
What DEAR Foundation needs, aside from donations, is volunteers – particularly bilingual ones. These people can help answer phones or act as interpreters. About 80 percent of the Foundation’s clients are Hispanic, Barbera-Parra said, so Spanish speakers are certainly needed. Donations to the DEAR Foundation help fund its existing legal and educational efforts, but also go into future programs.
Barbera-Parra said. “We are working to have a program that maybe they can get a scholarship through donations and they will be able to apply for legal status here in the United States.”
4917 Waters Edge Drive, Suite 140
Raleigh, N.C. 27502
Description: The DEAR Foundation Inc. is a nonprofit organization aimed at protecting immigrant rights and promoting social justice through legal empowerment programs such as educational activities and legal support. The organization serves low-income immigrant families from Wake, Durham, Orange and Alamance counties, among other areas in North Carolina.