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Executive Director Says Immigration Policy Must Respond to Undocumented Immigrants “Case By Case”

“When I came to Jardín we had $20,000 in the bank and we were losing $20,000 a month,” recalls Audrey Hartley, the executive director of the New Mexico nonprofit Jardín de los Niños, which provides parenting education and childcare for low income and homeless families. But Hartley, who arrived at Jardín—i.e. The Children’s Garden—after a career in hospital marketing and administration, soon helped turn the nonprofit around. Since 1995, Jardín has helped 1,800 immigrant families find employment and become taxpayers. “Two of our six [employees], Alma and Paloma, were our clients when they came here from Mexico,” Hartley says. “Now they are teachers working on their associate’s degrees. If you want to see participation and productivity, I have two shining examples right there.”

Jardín de los Niños serves low-income and homeless families in Las Cruces, helping them rise out of poverty and improve their economic opportunities. In addition to free daycare and parenting classes, the center teaches money management and basic financial literacy. Those who use services are also required to give back by working at the center. “Many of their families come to us literally with the clothes on their backs,” Hartley says. “Most of the families that we see from Mexico are running away from physical and familial violence. They’ve been abused, and the children have been abused… We refer them to several services so they can start working on getting their papers, getting stability, getting a home, all those kinds of things. It’s a detailed and long, drawn-out process for us to help them.” Yet by the time each family graduates from Jardín’s programs, whether it’s after six weeks or three years, all have obtained stable employment and housing. They’re on their way to a better life. “They are able to provide food and clothing for their children, and they are tax paying citizens,” Hartley explains.

How can we triage better, and make sure that the ones that come into this country because they are in dire situations get first priority?

One immigrant mother of four, Hartley recalls, arrived with her kids after her husband had been murdered in Mexico. “The older daughter was deaf because she was riding in the car with her father when someone reached into his car and at point blank range killed him.” All four children entered Jardín’s program, who outfitted the deaf girl with hearing aids, and brought in a sign language teacher to help the family learn to sign. “We did everything that we could,” Hartley says. After three years, the family graduated from the program in the summer of 2015. The process of obtaining the legal status required to remain in the United States also took three years. “Now, the mom has a home, a job, and can feed and clothe her kids. They’re doing great,” she continues. Having papers makes a major difference for Jardín’s immigrant clients. “The difference between an alien child and an American child is that an American child whose mother is at the poverty level can receive assistance with daycare,” Hartley says.

She strongly believes that everyone should arrive in the United States legally. At the same time, she acknowledges that the system isn’t yet equipped to be able to handle what she calls “triage” situations, like those who arrive in the United States fleeing for their lives. “We’re not looking at immigration on a case-by-case basis,” she explains. Desperate families in dire need should be able to find help immediately, she believes. “Something like three years to get papers is a long time when you’re afraid and you’re struggling,” Hartley says. “Somebody needs to look at the system because it’s definitely broken. We really need to take the worst case and help them first. How can we triage better, and make sure that the ones that come into this country because they are in dire situations get first priority?”

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