THE FRANKFORT IMMIGRATION ASSISTANCE NETWORK:
A COMMUNITY COMING TOGETHER
The Frankfort Immigration Assistance Network (FIAN) was launched by Margaret O’Donnell in January 2017 after the beginning of the Trump administration. O’Donnell saw a need for a network to support immigrants residing in her hometown of Frankfort, Kentucky — most of whom hail from Mexico and Central America. Since then, FIAN has evolved to provide immigrants in the Frankfort area with a broad range of services, including accompaniment to immigration appointments and court hearings, legal referrals, support for immigrant parents with children in school, and interpretation. Frankfort is a small city of roughly 26,000 that has relatively few attorneys, social workers, and government staff dedicated to helping immigrants. The network provides a lifeline to vulnerable immigrants in the region who might otherwise lack support. It also works tirelessly to educate the public about local immigrant communities.
FIAN is staffed by about 30 volunteers from many different backgrounds who share a common concern about the well-being of immigrants in the Frankfort area. O’Donnell and FIAN’s other founding members recruited volunteers at municipal town hall meetings, through presentations at community organizations, through local churches, and by word of mouth.
FIAN’s volunteers are deeply dedicated to helping immigrants in their communities in whatever ways they can. Chris Schimmoeller, a FIAN volunteer, expressed that “The incredible relief on peoples’ faces when they hear that there is an attorney in town who is willing to help at no charge is a palpable reminder that we are providing critical services to people when they are most vulnerable. I am proud to work with the fine volunteers of FIAN to help make Frankfort a welcoming community.” Some of these services include accompanying immigrants to ICE check-ins, driving them to court appointments in Lexington and Louisville, and organizing visits to detainees at the Boone County detention center. FIAN volunteers provide such accompaniment once or twice per month on average, although demand fluctuates from month to month. They also provide interpretation for legal appointments. FIAN has also compiled a list of vetted immigration lawyers in the area and provides immigrants with referrals. In addition, volunteers help immigrants locate detained family members and help immigrants register their children at their home countries’ consulates. Finally, FIAN organized a “know your rights” presentation for immigrants at a local Roman Catholic church.
FIAN is also collecting data tracking ICE detentions in Franklin County. It currently relies on reports from volunteers and community members but hopes also to collect government data on federal immigration enforcement in the region.
FIAN is engaged with immigrants’ education and health care. Its volunteers provide interpretation at a local clinic organized by the First Baptist Church and staffed by volunteer doctors and dentists from the community. It also provides referrals to mental health services and domestic violence counseling. The organization is also in the process of setting up a program that helps immigrant parents navigate the local school system and supports their engagement with Franklin County schools. To that end, it is working with ESL teachers, family resources services officials, and dropout prevention coordinators to support students’ education.
FIAN also seeks to educate the people of Frankfort about immigrants and show that immigration enforcement is hurting families with deep roots in the local community. “When we started,” noted Berea Bradshaw, a FIAN volunteer, “we were a group of people wondering, ‘Do the stories that we hear in the news about immigrants being impacted by national politics happen here as well?’ And we have discovered that yes! All of that happens here. The immigrant communities are very resilient, brave, and have a deep knowledge about the struggles they face and why. Yet, if you ask a majority of people in our town, they would probably assume that these issues are not here, because they do not know anyone affected. Being a good ally for FIAN means amplifying the voices of immigrants, like making space for them publicly … and lending them our privilege by helping navigate legal systems that we have access to and understand.”
To raise awareness of immigrant communities, in October 2018 FIAN organized a festival celebrating the cultures of immigrants residing in the region. Supported by a grant from the City of Frankfort, the festival was held on the grounds of the Highland Christian Church and over 200 people attended. FIAN recruited musicians and artists from the local community and also set up booths sharing information about the healthcare services offered at Frankfort’s First Baptist Church as well as legal services in the regions. It also lifts up immigrants’ stories through local media. In March 2018, it organized two interviews with local DACA recipients who were subsequently profiled in the State Journal, a local newspaper. It also interviewed immigrants’ employers in order to highlight the importance of immigrants to the community. Finally, FIAN has also organized workshops at churches interested in providing sanctuary for immigrants. These workshops helped local faith leaders understand sanctuary policies and how to provide sanctuary.
FIAN provides vital services to immigrant communities in the Frankfort, Kentucky region, many of whom might otherwise lack support. It also works tirelessly to raise community awareness of immigrants and the challenges they face. For more information on FIAN, please contact Margaret O’Donnell, its founder and executive director, at [email protected].