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L.A. groups form emergency relief fund to help immigrant children

Philanthropic groups form relief fund to aid nonprofits involved in immigrant relief
More than 3,000 unaccompanied minors were released to guardians in California between Jan. 1 and July 7

Several philanthropic groups have formed an emergency relief fund to assist Los Angeles nonprofits overwhelmed by an influx of immigrant children and their parents.

On Thursday, a coalition of groups announced a pledge drive to raise money for the fund. Antonia Hernandez, president and chief executive of the California Community Foundation, said it is essential that the local community come together to support the large numbers of immigrant youth who have crossed the border illegally in the last year.

"They are our children," she said. 

The first recipients of the grant money will be the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, which provides pro bono legal services to immigrants, and the Central American Resource Center, which connects immigrants with case workers, Hernandez said.

Money from the fund will also be used to pay for a full-time staffer to coordinate the relief effort. Hernandez said the group has hired Steve Reyes, an aide to L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who has taken a six-month leave of absence from Molina's office to take on the job.

Like federal immigration officials and courts, the nonprofit world has been overwhelmed by the arrival of more than 57,000 unaccompanied youth at the nation's southern border this fiscal year, as well as others who crossed with parents. Most come from countries in Central America and say they are fleeing escalating gang violence.

In recent months, Los Angeles nonprofits have begun to feel the effects of the surge, with groups that provide free legal services to immigrants saying that they do not have enough lawyers to meet demand.

Between Jan. 1 and July 7, 3,150 immigrant children who crossed the border alone have been released to guardians in California, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Hernandez said her coalition has already raised nearly half a million dollars from groups including the Weingart Foundation and the California Wellness Foundation. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti supports the effort.

In a news release announcing the formation of the fund, Garcetti said the arrival of immigrant youth "is a humanitarian issue, and the health and safety of these children is of utmost importance."

Last month, his office convened a meeting with nonprofits and federal officials to explore how Los Angeles could help new arrivals.

Follow @katelinthicum for news about immigration.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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