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Newly Arrived Immigrant Children Learn English

Posted on October 17, 2016 by Catholic Charities Admin  |  Share

Cross Another Key Hurdle in Acclimating and Contributing to the U.S.

“El Diario,” the premier Spanish-language newspaper turns to Catholic Charities Immigration Services for regular immigration updates.  Read this week in English below and in Spanish in El Diario how Catholic Charities’ innovative Terra Firma program helps newly arrived immigrant children learn English, a key hurdle so many struggle with as they work towards becoming contributing U. S. citizens. 

By Brett Stark and Elaine Roberts

At Terra Firma, the first medical-legal partnership anywhere in the nation designed specifically for unaccompanied immigrant children, many get an early start learning to read, write, and speak English thanks to Catholic Charities immigration services in New York.  We offer this help so they can achieve this key requirement to become United States citizens. Jointly run by Catholic Charities and the Children's Hospital at Montefiore, Terra Firma’s community health center is located in the South Bronx, one of the poorest Congressional districts in the United States.

Dozens of newly-arrived children who crossed the U.S. border without a parent or guardian and without lawful immigration status took part in   Terra Firma’s English as a Second Language classes this summer.  Almost 70,000 unaccompanied minors arrived in 2014, the vast majority from Central America and seeking protection from abuse, neglect, and persecution.

Catholic Charities’ International Center worked with Terra Firma in 2016 to provide unaccompanied children participating with free English language classes. Each week, U.S. citizen volunteers from the International Center spent time with youth recently arrived in the United States.  They went over vocabulary, perfecting pronunciation, and engaging in cross-cultural and cross-national dialogue. Roughly 60 unaccompanied minors attended Terra Firma classes nearly 200 times over the course of the summer.  This represents a 50% increase over last year. In fact, nearly 50 children attended International Center classes in August alone. 

The program is but one of several offerings at Terra Firma.  It offers coordinated medical, legal, and mental health services to unaccompanied children, all at one location. The value of the model is the close working, collaborative relationship between doctors, lawyers, and mental health professionals. On the same day, a child can get vaccinations from their pediatrician, discuss problems at school with their therapist, and receive immigration advice from their lawyer. In addition to these essential services, Terra Firma offers enrichment activities like cooking workshops and dance classes and, in partnership with South Bronx United, youth soccer games (a favorite of the children).

For now, unaccompanied children continue to get the support they need with integrated medical-legal care and English instruction. At the conclusion of their summer classes, newly-arrived children participated in a graduation ceremony where they received recognition and diplomas to reward their studying and hard work. A generous donation by UNICEF—the United Nations Children’s Fund—helped these vulnerable children start the new school year off right, with backpacks and school supplies presented at their graduation ceremony. For many, it was their first but not their last graduation ceremony in the United States. With the support of their doctors, lawyers, therapists, and teachers, these resilient and courageous children continue to dedicate themselves to their studies and the language of their new country with the hope that they too will one day become American citizens.

Elaine Roberts, director of Catholic Charities International Center and Brett Stark, Catholic Charities staff attorney for Catholic Charities work with a team of experts to help unaccompanied immigrant children.

Find out more about Catholic Charities immigration services for children.

Read this story just released in Spanish in El Diario.