THE FRANKFORT IMMIGRATION ASSISTANCE NETWORK:
A COMMUNITY COMING TOGETHER
The Frankfort Immigration Assistance Network (FIAN) was launched in January 2017 at the beginning of the Trump administration. Community members saw a need for a network to support immigrants residing in Frankfort (Franklin County), 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 collaboration with local social service non-profits to provide food and housing assistance as well as health care to immigrants, accompaniment to immigration appointments and court hearings, legal referrals and representation, support for immigrant parents with children in school, and interpretation assistance. Frankfort is a small city of roughly 24,000 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 to educate the public about local immigrant communities.
FIAN is staffed by about 15 volunteers from many different backgrounds who share a common concern about the well-being of immigrants in the Frankfort area. FIAN’s other founding members recruit volunteers at public meetings, through presentations at community organizations, through local churches, festivals, and by word of mouth.
FIAN’s volunteers are 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 organization in town that 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 the network’s initial services included and still include accompanying immigrants to ICE check-ins and driving them to court appointments in Lexington and Louisville. FIAN volunteers provide such accompaniment once or twice per month on average, although demand fluctuates from month to month and has slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 and some direct representation. In addition, volunteers help immigrants locate detained family members and help immigrants register their children at their home countries’ consulates.
FIAN is engaged with immigrants’ wellbeing, subsistence, health care, and education. In the Spring of 2019, its volunteers started a furniture and housewares project to assist immigrants who were arriving in Frankfort from the border with few material resources. FIAN also collaborates with the Resource Office of Social Ministries and the Emergency Food Pantry of Franklin County to provide housing and food assistance to immigrants. FIAN, in 2020, received a $2,500 grant from the Frankfort Fund to provide grocery certificates to immigrants impacted by COVID. For several years, a FIAN volunteer has provided interpretation at a local health care clinic organized by the First Baptist Church and staffed by volunteer doctors and dentists from the community. FIAN also provides referrals for mental health services and domestic violence counseling. Most recently, FIAN is collaborating with the Franklin County Health Department in its ongoing efforts to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to immigrants. The organization also collaborates with the local schools to help immigrant parents navigate the school system and supports their engagement with Frankfort and 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 residents 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, making space for them publicly … and lending them our privilege by helping navigate legal systems that we have access to and understand.”
FIAN provides vital services to immigrant communities in the Frankfort, Kentucky region, many of whom might otherwise lack support. They reflect on what FIAN’s support has meant in their lives:
“This note is to let you know that the (utilities) bill has been paid. Thank you so much for everything and thanks to the organization that assisted. Have a beautiful afternoon and may God bless you greatly.”
—Victoria from Guatemala, April 2020. She received assistance for her utility bill when her husband was furloughed from his job due to COVID-19.
“Thank you for remembering us.”
—Andrea from Colombia, June 2020. FIAN delivered a donated bed for her 5-year-old son.
“You have done many things for me and never will I be able to pay back everything you have done.”
—Karla from Nicaragua, July 2020. FIAN donated furniture and made food deliveries from its emergency food pantry.
“This help seems to fall from the sky. Truly, infinite thanks.”
—Jose from Mexico, August 2020. FIAN supported Jose with gift certificates to the local grocery store and helped him apply for an eye exam and glasses for his daughter at the KY Vision Project.
“You’ve been God sent. . . . We need a good and honest person who is willing to take up our case . . .. My family is very grateful for your help.”
—Emmanuel from Ghana, August 2020. FIAN helped Emmanuel secure immigration legal advice when ICE attempted to serve him with a notice to appear in removal proceedings.
For more information on FIAN, please contact Margaret O’Donnell, its founder and executive director, at [email protected].