American Friends Immigrant Services History in Florida
The Central America Political Asylum Project (CAPAP) was established in 1984 as part of the AFSC's Florida Undocumented Workers Program and began when increasing numbers of refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala fled to the US seeking safe haven from the civil wars in their home countries. While some Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees were able to legalize their status under the provisions IRCA, many more remained undocumented or in pending asylum proceedings. In 1990, the settlement of the ABC lawsuit favored Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees and congressional action granted TPS to Salvadorans. Congress later continued the protection of these Salvadorans and granted them DED which ended on December 31, 1994.
The project registered as many of these protected Salvadorans as possible for ABC class membership. The INS ceased interviewing ABC asylum applicants when President Clinton signed into law the NACARA on December 19, 1997. NACARA, in part, allows nationals of Guatemala and El Salvador to apply for legal permanent residence based on their continuous physical presence in the US for the past 7 years. The project filed NACARA applications for eligible clients and included qualified family members to prevent a family being separated because one person has obtained legal status and the other has not. In late 2000, the project received funds to provide immigration services to the Haitian community. At the request of the Farmworkers Association in Homestead, the project also made presentations on LIFE. Some public notaries had been taking advantage of the confusion surrounding the change in the law by charging exorbitant fees to file immigration forms for unqualified persons.
The project also participated in legal education to inform the farm worker community that LIFE was not an amnesty law. At the request of the Carpenters Union in Homestead, the project also trained their staff to file as many TPS applications for the Salvadoran community as possible since TPS allows a qualified applicant a work permit. In addition to the providing immigration services at the office located in Miami, the legal staff also traveled once a month to four outreach sites located throughout South and South Central Florida. Clients from forty-nine counties in Florida were served through the outreach program.
Previously, the project also provided weekly outreach services to the One Nation office located in Little Havana community. The focus was to provide legal assistance with processing naturalization applications for the elderly or disabled that would be adversely impacted by welfare reform laws. The project also identified issues and plaintiffs for the class action lawsuit that was filed against the INS for their arbitrary and capricious denials of medical waivers and the waivers of the naturalization filing fee. The lawsuits resulted in a negotiated settlement which dramatically increased the number of medical waivers that are granted in the Miami INS district.
In 2004, CAPAP was changed to American Friends Immigrant Services (AFIS) as the program continued to broaden its work and the services provided to the community.
In December of 2006, AFIS launched a new program, the Haitian Project. The intention of the project is to organize the Haitian Community in Florida, to advocate on their behalf, and to form relationships with Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Miami contains the largest Haitian refugee/immigrant population in the US, making it imperative that their interests are well represented in the community.
AFIS has recently formed a partnership with the Carlos A. Costa Immigration and Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) of FIU's Law College. With the newfound relationship, AFIS is able to refer clients to the IHRC for legal assistance and representation in more complex immigration cases.
Since its conception, AFIS has been instrumental in organizing communities in South Florida in activities such as opposing anti-immigrant city or county ordinances. Ordinances, such as the ones in Avon Park and Palm Bay, failed passage due to large negative feedback and opposition from organizations such as AFIS. The Community Advocates of the AFIS Program have also provided day workers and migrant workers with presentations about their rights. Eventually, with other community based organizations, AFIS was able to convince Miami-Dade County to organize a labor center. The County approved $200,000 to help finance a Day Labor Center in the Cutler Bay area. The community organizing and human rights program has maintained a positive voice for immigrants throughout the South Florida Community.