Grants to expand legal services for immigrants

Other grants are to deepen public understanding of immigrant communities

By Allecia Vermillion, By Bay City News Service

The Silicon Valley Community Foundation is awarding nearly $1.4 million in grants it says will produce more consultations and shorter waiting times for low-income immigrants in need of legal services in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

The foundation will award the grants to eight legal services groups and 12 cultural communication programs.

The non-legal grants, totaling $630,000 of the $1.4 million, are intended to deepen the public's understanding of its immigrant communities and help bridge the gap between these individuals and public policy makers, said Manuel Santamaria, grantmaking administrator for the foundation.

These include $60,000 to the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office to establish community partnerships in Redwood City's North Fair Oaks neighborhood, and $75,000 to Asian American Recovery Services in Santa Clara to support Vietnamese integration programs using theater and media campaigns.

Mr. Santamaria said the awards reflect the organization's belief that empowering the growing foreign-born population is critical to the region's long-term success.

"Silicon Valley, including San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, is really a microcosm of immigrants," he said. "How do we work together to create a new paradigm of social justice?"

Legal services and community cultural programs form two parts of the organization's three-pronged immigration approach, he said. The foundation will seek proposals for its third focus, adult English language skills, in May.

When the Peninsula Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley merged in 2006 to form the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, staff set about determining a new set of priorities that unified both organizations, Mr. Santamaria said.

Through conversations with local groups, the foundation discovered that Silicon Valley's legal aid resources were overwhelmed after the last large-scale immigration reform, back in 1986.

While a proposed federal overhaul stalled in Congress in 2007, Mr. Santamaria said the region should be prepared when President Obama's administration moves on this issue. Currently the region's need for legal aid far outpaces the existing resources, he said.

Collaborative Resources for Immigrant Services on the Peninsula, or CRISP, received $250,000, the largest of the grants. This money will expand the aid the organization can give to immigrant children and their families.

Other groups, including the International Institute of the Bay Area and the International Rescue Committee of San Jose, received smaller grants to add caseworkers that are accredited by the federal Board of Immigration Appeals.

Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County received two grants, totaling more than $174,000. These funds will help expand legal aid in its centers in San Jose and Gilroy, training and accrediting two more immigration specialists, as well as planning for a collaborative group of local immigration service providers.

The foundation selected the grant recipients from a total of nearly 70 proposals. Mr. Santamaria said his team was looking for organizations they believe will be operating in the community for years to come, as well as groups "providing some niche services to niche communities" that could benefit from additional funds.

"We're invested in these strategies for the long haul," he said.

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