In Miami, Florida, a young immigration rights advocate has returned to the AFSC’s American Friends Immigrant Services (AFIS) program to continue her work assisting communities in need of legal guidance.
Mariana Martinez, 23, first became involved with the AFSC as a volunteer, helping her father Herman Martinez who previously worked as a community organizer with the Miami office. Mariana remembers growing up fascinated by her father’s work, and wanting to get involved by the time she reached high school. From there she learned that AFIS not only performs legal services for individuals by providing assistance with paperwork and direct representation, but also focuses on community leadership development, education, coalition building and campaigns for immigrant rights.
In 2014, Mariana was encouraged by Miami staff to apply for a youth convening in Cape Town, South Africa, and was chosen to attend along with over a dozen other young AFSC participants from around the world. “They shared with me the work and struggles they were facing and it completely changed my whole view of life,” she recalls. “I was inspired by the work these young people did and I wanted to do the same.”
With a new perspective, Martinez completed her associate’s degree in psychology and began courses for bachelor studies in international relations and political science. When not in school, she volunteered for multiple local and national immigrant rights groups. She appreciates the collaborations she witnessed, including with the AFSC. AFIS has long worked in partnership with other grassroots organizations in Florida to strengthen immigrant communities. “I have always been moved by the dedication and stability AFSC has had throughout [the years]. With any organization there usually comes a time for reevaluation and sometimes drastic change, but with AFSC there seems to be consistency with the vision of work,” she notes.
Through her ongoing involvement in the immigrant rights network, Martinez returned to AFIS in 2017. After the election of Donald Trump in October, the office has seen increased demand for legal assistance, especially since the administration called for an end to Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for El Salvador and Haiti, provisions which affect thousands in South Florida. This has put additional stress on Martinez and all AFIS staff as the program fields calls and visits from individuals and families beyond the Miami area.
Of the AFIS legal staff, Martinez says she is moved by their dedication to make sure the AFSC can serve as many as possible. “Marie [Jean] and Lucio [Perez-Reynozo] do excellent work, and clients always leave feeling hopeful and well-educated on their case, rights, and options. With the Trump administration attacking immigrants of all statuses, people are scared and need legal guidance.”
The government’s recents actions affect family and close friends of Martinez, and have caused uncertainty even in those who have permanent residency. So far with the AFSC, she finds that “...the most important work AFIS has been doing is educating community members on immigration avenues they are applicable for, because many people are not aware of what other options they have.”
Along with legal work, Martinez has contributed to the expanding Sanctuary Everywhere movement, an AFSC initiative that aims to educate communities on how to protect one another. “Sanctuary Everywhere to me means being unafraid to live. I really like that the initiative is intentional [about] being inclusive of several issues, not only immigration.” AFIS was one of the first programs to offer workshops to the public on how to provide sanctuary, which Martinez believes can “...incorporate all of the AFSC’s social justice work and guide future projects of inclusion and protection for all people.”
Looking forward, Martinez plans to continue learning the ins and outs of immigration law. “I want to put my studies to use and continue working for the local communities in need, and eventually international work,” she says, and she also notes that she would like to apply her experience to serving youth. With so many AFSC programs tied together by the shared goal of empowering youth, we certainly need more advocates like Mariana to help young people plant the seeds of justice.
- Bryan Vana
South Regional Communication Coordinator