Bay Area organizations are a leading role model on the response to child refugees 

Waves of Central American child refugees are landing in California, and many of them see the Bay Area as safe ground. In response, many Bay Area organizations are coming to their aid with the aim of turning the potential humanitarian crisis into an opportunity for these children to live in safe homes and communities.

"This is not a new issue for the Latino community," said Arabella Martinez, interim CEO of the Latino Community Foundation. "We are committed to turning this humanitarian crisis into an opportunity for these children to live in a safe home and community."

The Latino Community Foundation's mission is to serve as a resource hub for the local Latino community, coordinating efforts for addressing the needs of unaccompanied minors coming from Central America. It partnered with Univision and the San Francisco Foundation on Aug. 26 for a panel discussion, "Responding to Crisis," to raise awareness about the Central American child refugee crisis.

"The unaccompanied children immigrants issue is not new," said Tessa Rouverol Callejo, San Francisco Foundation civic engagement officer. "This number of young children coming to the U.S. has really presented a humanitarian crisis and we need to step up to the plate -- all of us at the foundation, city, government, school districts, lawyers -- to see how we're going to stand next to these children to make sure they have a day in court and they are not deported back to conditions they fled in the first place."

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports that more than 45,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended nationally since January, and by the end of the year the number may exceed 90,000.

According to Bianca Sierra Wolff, CEO at Oakland-based Central Legal de la Raza, "There are many Central Americans in the Bay Area, which is why many children are coming here to reunite with family members or just to get support from the community."

Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown announced legislation to provide legal services to unaccompanied minors arriving in California from Central America that would provide $3 million to nonprofits that offer legal services. At the same time, the San Francisco Unified School District approved a resolution that set aside $3.5 million in federal funding to help schools accommodate unaccompanied immigrant children this year.

"The City as a whole is doing a great job of recognizing and welcoming those kids to the school system, which is something amazing because they do need education," said Darwin Velasquez, who arrived in California in 2007 as an unaccompanied minor from Central America. He said the help he received from organizations such as the Latino Community Foundation and Central Legal de la Raza made it possible for him to build his life in the state.

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