Catholic Legal Services

Community Grants Q&A with Catholic Legal Services

It is no secret that our local nonprofits are consistently stepping up to support our community, and we at The Miami Foundation are lucky enough to get a front-row seat to witness it, particularly through the work of our Community Grants award winners each year.

This year, our Community Grants program has taken shape in new ways as we have defined new priorities and core values behind the work that we want to support and uplift in our community. One of our exciting new updates to the program is a shift from our traditional “Well-being of Children and Youth” funding category to the more inclusive “Thriving Youth and Families”.

Catholic Legal Services (CLS), a 2020 grantee, provides an excellent example of the kind of work being undertaken by many organizations seeking to offer support to both children and their families in order for the entire family unit to thrive. Since receiving their grant, the organization has been able to maintain a caseload of more than 105 families, providing culturally competent legal representation to assist these families with guidance to seek asylum and work authorization in the United States. We connected with Kristie-Anne Padron, Managing Attorney at CLS to learn more about their ongoing work and plans for the future.


What does your organization seek to achieve for Miami, and how?

Catholic Legal Services seeks to prevent exploitation and get status for our most vulnerable immigrant populations. Fifty percent of Miami-Dade County is foreign born, yet our federal and state policies are not as welcoming as our community is diverse. Many are eligible for relief or protection but need competent and accessible legal representation to navigate the confusing laws and systems. CLS works to increase access to justice for low-income immigrants in need of legal information and representation, with a range of programs focusing on the most vulnerable such as family units seeking asylum and immigrant victims of crime. Our clients range from children as young as two years old who were separated from their parents at the border, to a 104-year-old grandmother we assisted with her citizenship. We aim to orient people and fill the gap for those who cannot afford private lawyers and who run the risk of being abused and robbed by scammers. With good legal representation and eventually work authorization and legal status, our clients will be safer, more independent, and less vulnerable to trafficking or exploitation, making Miami better for everyone that lives here.

How is your organization taking action on racial equity and justice?

CLS is, by mission, an organization dedicated to racial equity and justice, from its inception in 1994 as a legal project focused on assisting asylum seekers in Little Haiti. Immigration is inherently a racial justice issue and Black immigrants are disproportionately targeted and subject to unnecessary detention. Our diverse staff has many Haitian and Creole-speaking attorneys, and we have worked tirelessly to help Haitian migrants unjustly detained at the border. By working with the Haitian community, we work to make sure that an important and vital part of our immigrant community in Miami gets access to services and avoid disparate outcomes. We believe empowering information, representation, and due process are the first steps towards racial equity for immigrants of color. Our ultimate goal is to help our clients get status and eventually US Citizenship so they can have a voice and representation.

What was the most important thing you learned in 2020, and how will that guide your organization’s work moving forward?

We were reminded once again that our clients are resilient and have worked to get help and services despite dire challenges. Our staff has been strong and persistent at serving the most vulnerable, despite many personal challenges. At the beginning of 2020, we were just starting to discuss the possibility of allowing our staff to telecommute, little did we know that we would have to adjust to a whole new world. Now we are holding community orientations for minors and asylum-seekers on Zoom every week!

In 2021, Miami will chart the path toward an equitable and just recovery from COVID-19. What will you be working to see included in recovery efforts to ensure that our community builds back stronger?

Miami needs to ensure that all members of our community are included in recovery efforts, not just those with legal status. Many federal and state relief efforts have left out the undocumented or excluded mix-status families, making it even more difficult for those affected by closures to survive the pandemic. Our immigrant population, mostly working in higher-risk jobs in agriculture and hospitality, already faces many barriers to access health care coverage, as well as worse outcomes if infected. Residency and ID requirements on vaccination will unduly burden those that have lived here and contributed to our community for years and exclude some of our most vulnerable individuals. We need to work together to make sure that the vaccines, relief, and rebuilding include them for the sake of justice and our community’s overall public health.


For more information on this year’s Community Grants program funding priorities and to apply, visit Ideas are due by February 26th.


Chelsea Clark is the programs associate at The Miami Foundation.

Pictured: The Gonzalez family fled gang violence in Honduras. With the help of CLS pro bono attorneys, the family applied for asylum in the US.

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