THE NEED, WHO WE SERVE
Since 2012, almost 2 million unaccompanied immigrant children and asylum-seeking families (mostly women and children) have sought humanitarian protection at the US-Mexico border. The history of these children and families – the majority from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – reflect larger humanitarian crises in their countries of origin. Without government protection, they are forced to flee pervasive violence, gang recruitment, climate disaster, war, and devastating poverty. Children and families then make the heartbreaking decision to flee their homelands and undertake perilous journeys to the US.
Apprehended by US officials at the border, children and families are placed into detention centers in often inhumane conditions until they are released for their pending court proceedings. Arriving in new communities, they join family and friends while facing immigration proceedings and the threat of imminent deportation. This phase is one of great transition and vulnerability, and a time when they can benefit most from a holistic, high-quality intervention. Terra Firma was created to be that intervention; helping newly-arrived immigrant children and families land on solid ground.
Terra Firma was founded in 2013 as a direct response to a growing need for high quality medical and mental health care, social services and legal representation for immigrant children and families. Terra Firma’s co-founders met fortuitously while working with a Guatemalan youth experiencing homelessness with complicated medical and social needs. Rather than working in silos, the idea for a unique one-stop-shop model was created to serve unaccompanied children and families seeking safety and justice.
AN INNOVATIVE, EXPERT APPROACH TO A HUMANITARIAN NEED
Terra Firma’s flagship program is located in a South Bronx community health center in an immigrant-rich neighborhood. Its groundbreaking model has a pro bono legal team working side-by-side medical and mental health professionals. Partnerships between legal and healthcare professionals has shown to facilitate access to all services for newly-arrived immigrants and improve medical, mental health and legal outcomes. Terra Firma complements these core services with acculturation and enrichment activities such as English language classes, photography workshops, and soccer.
In this integrated model, healthcare professionals play a crucial role in improving immigration outcomes by providing a safe environment in which children can recount the painful circumstances that led them to flee their country and receive trauma-informed care, so critical to their healing. Medical and mental health professionals working with these children provide written evaluations and oral testimony that support their legal cases. This approach corroborates their histories, increases their likelihood of receiving legal protection, and mitigates re-traumatization, keeping the child’s best interests front and center.
A NATIONAL CALL TO ACTION
Since our inception, Terra Firma has gained national recognition and the number of requests to replicate our model continues to grow. Answering this call to action, we launched a new nonprofit organization, Terra Firma National which seeks to develop a network of programs across the country, strengthen advocacy, drive child-centered policy, and pioneer much needed research about the needs of this vulnerable population. Terra Firma’s mission is to ensure that all children and families receive healthcare and justice, regardless of immigration status.