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A Human Rights First social worker describes the challenges facing asylum seekers

Diana Diaz, a social worker for Human Rights First (HRF), experienced first hand the difficulties of transitioning into the United States from another country. Diaz is an immigrant who came to the states when she was 15 from Ecuador.

Before starting with HRF in 2019, Diaz worked for three years in Central Valley, California with immigrant farm work laborers. She mostly focused on women who survived sexual abuse and labor trafficking in the fields.

When Diaz heard about the caravans of asylum seekers coming to the United States, she wanted to relocate to an area with more services available.

“I know a little bit what it's like to need and not have,” Diaz said, “and also to need and have somebody provide it for me out of the kindness of their hearts.”

HRF is an independent advocacy and action organization that challenges America to live up to its ideals. It is mostly made up of lawyers who give legal nonprofit pro bono representation for asylum seekers, while Diaz and her two interns focus on connecting those who need social services while waiting for their cases to be processed.

Diana Diaz is a social worker with Human Rights First and is leading the Vida Sin Fronteras project. Photo from Human Rights First press release

The most recent project that Human Rights First and the Western Union Foundation partnered to create is called Vida Sin Fronteras. Diaz explained the project was made to address social integration, basic resources and education barriers.

HRF has provided hotspots, laptops, mattresses, food and many other items that are needed for the individuals participating in the program.

“Whatever they need we try to figure out a solution,” Diaz said. “To see them being able to have support and have access to resources is amazing.”

To solve some of the education barriers HRF connected with One Digital World to provide English as a second language ESL courses and digital literacy to the parents so they can be better equipped to assist their children in school.

Karen Rodriguez participated in the Vida Sin Fronteras project in Los Angeles, California. She would spend hours taking the bus into downtown Los Angeles to the PG&E building to pay her electric bill.

In her digital literacy class, Rodriguez learned about online safety and security as well how to navigate websites. This allowed her to create an online account for her electric bill, verify the website's safety protections before entering her bank account information and register for autopay. Now Rodriguez saves herself transit time, stress of being on a bus alone in a foreign country and bus fare. The smallest things can make a huge difference in someone’s quality of life.

Students pose for a screenshot after graduating the five-week digital literacy course, which was completely online. Screenshot from Zoom

In addition to barriers, one out of three asylum seekers and refugees experience high rates of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Diaz said there is sometimes a stigma surrounding mental health, which makes some uncomfortable to reach out for help.

“What I have learned from (asylum seekers) is to build community and find support with others who are going through the same thing as they did.”

Diaz said that many people think that immigration it is too large of an issue to help out.

“In your hands you have so much to give just by welcoming people with the simplest things,” Diaz said.

This could include asking someone out for a cup of coffee, setting up playdates for your children, or even conversing about favorite foods from their country of origin. Making someone feel welcomed can go a long way.

To find more information and how to support Human Rights First and One Digital World click the links.

Update: 08/09/21 11:56 a.m. Corrections have been made when describing sexual abuse and labor trafficking in the fields and Diana Diaz’s country of origin and years working in Central Valley. Immigration has been changed to integration to describe the program more accurately.

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