Many people in Silicon Valley’s African immigrant community live in fear. As Trump administration immigration policies make headlines, people who have worked hard to build lives here for years – even decades – no longer feel welcome. They worry that changes in attitudes and policies could lead to deportation.
This climate makes the work of SVCF grantee African Advocacy Network more important than ever – but the pervasive fear can make carrying out that work difficult.
“People are scared,” said Adoubou Traore, AAN director and cofounder. “We may count 75 people in the room during one of our Know Your Rights workshops, but we won’t get even 25 of those people to provide basic information – their first name, country of origin and the county where they live – when we pass around a sign-in sheet. That really gives us a feel for the current environment.”
AAN provides immigration legal services, case management and social integration services to African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers in San Francisco and surrounding counties. AAN’s outreach efforts have reached hundreds of Africans, helping them know their rights and the importance of pursuing citizenship. Last year, AAN served 57 South Bay clients, 42 of whom had asylum, green card, family reunification, and other applications processed. In total, the organization typically serves more than 400 clients around the Bay each year.
AAN’s educational workshops cover important topics including immigration benefits, family reunification, language access and other rights. The organization also provides employment referrals, translation services for government and legal documents, and interpretation services during asylum procedings, at doctors’ offices and in private and public meetings throughout the Bay Area. AAN staff members serve clients in English, French, Spanish, Amaharic (Ethiopian), Tigrinya (Eritrean) and five other African languages.
“Our ultimate objective is to help community members achieve citizenship,” Traore said. “Even with a green card, you can be deported. We want to engage everyone in the process and make sure they know why it’s important to become a citizen. Even if they’re thinking they may want to return home someday, it’s better to do that on their own terms rather than being thrown out of the U.S.”
Thanks in part to two Silicon Valley Community Foundation grants totaling $80,000 in 2017, AAN recently transitioned from a program sponsored by the nonprofit Dolores Street Community Services to an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit. AAN welcomed its first staff attorney in 2017, and on April 6, 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review’s Office of Legal Access Program (OLAP) granted AAN full recognition status as a nonprofit organization to provide immigration legal services in United States. Concurrently, OLAP awarded the five other staff members their accreditation. The grants also helped the organization move from a single 300-square-foot room into a 2,800-square-foot office which can accommodate all six staff members simultaneously.
Operating as a standalone, independent organization gives AAN the long-term freedom and flexibility it needs to effectively carry out its mission. Evolving from a program under another organization into a self-sufficient nonprofit hasn’t been easy, according to Traore. In addition to finding adequate office space in a competitive real estate market, AAN had to create a new board, establish services previously provided by a parent organization and design an effective organizational structure.
Traore said he’s proud that AAN has progressed and is able to expand immigration legal services to Africans in the Bay Area. “The funding from SVCF allows us to do more outreach in the South Bay, establish working relationships with existing African communities, work with other legal service providers and have a presence closer to the people we serve,” he said.
With its new structure in place, AAN is positioned to encourage greater civic engagement within the community and help more members of the Bay Area’s diverse African community become citizens so they no longer have to live in fear.