Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico’s Support for Scholars (S4S) Program supports homeless youth and their families in Southern New Mexico
In 2019, the National Center for Educational Statistics reported that there were over 1.4 million public school students who are homeless in the United States. Nationwide, that number represents 2.5 percent of the total number of students enrolled in public schools. And, since the report was published the number of homeless students throughout the U.S. has substantially increased due to the coronavirus pandemic. The National Center for Homeless Education reported that there were approximately 11,588 homeless children/youth enrolled in New Mexico public schools in 2019-2020. This represents 3.5% of the state’s total student population. Recently, the Las Cruces Sun News reported that the number of homeless students enrolled in Las Cruces Public School District classes is estimated to be greater than 600. Within the district, Las Cruces High School and Organ Mountain High School have the highest numbers of homeless students compared to other local schools. Many homeless students in our community sleep outdoors in local city parks, in their automobiles, or at friend’s houses. The reasons for teenage homelessness in Las Cruces are varied and complex. A majority of homeless students are not runways who are disciplinary problems at home; rather, they find themselves in circumstances beyond their control. Many come from single parent families and have lost their caregiver through poverty, substance abuse including opioids, incarceration, deportation, sheer neglect or death. Over time, homelessness for these students has become a way of life and many take pride in their own self-sufficiency and independence. They shun government assistance and a foster care system that is stretched thin, can be chaotic and traumatizing, and identifies them as homeless to their peers and classmates. (For teenagers, even for the homeless, fitting in at school is still important.) Also, it is not unusually in Las Cruces, and in communities throughout our nation, for elderly grandparents to play the role of primary caregivers to their grandchildren, while they struggle with increased expenses and lack of resources themselves. In our interactions with local homeless students, many say they do not want to burden their grandparents or extended family in this way and instead chose to remain homeless. Despite the obstacles that homelessness presents, our staff and nonprofit partners have found these students to be conscientious and hardworking, resilient and resourceful, and intent on making a better life for themselves even in the worst of circumstances. On the bright side, each year 85 to 90 percent of homeless high school seniors graduate and find full-time jobs or join the military, and a number enroll in college if scholarship funding is available. Through the generosity of community members and donors, over the past two years our agency has been able to provide scholarship assistance to homeless high school students who graduate and are ready to attend New Mexico State University or Dona Ana Community College.
Specifically, the agency’s Support for Scholars (S4S) Program provides direct financial assistance to currently enrolled Las Cruces Public School District (LCPSD) middle school and high school students who are homeless. Assistance includes: free temporary shelter in local hotels, food, clothing, footwear, IT equipment, local public transportation coupons, haircuts, gift cards for the purchase of gasoline, laundry supplies, and personal hygiene products, as well as free mental health services, prescription medicines, and counseling.
A portion of the video below features Catholic Charities client, Dawn Zephier, and her children.
if you would like to support homeless students and families such as the Zephiers, please visit our website (www.catholiccharitiesdlc.org) donation page and make a contribution today to the Support for Scholars Program (S4S). Thank you for your support!
At the age of 26, Socorro Gutierrez and her husband looked for new hope and life as they decided to migrate to the United States to pursue the American Dream
Mrs. Gutierrez, 64, was born and raised in Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua, Mexico. Growing up, Mrs. Gutierrez always had goals and dreams of a better life. Success is something that she always pursued due to always wanting the best for her loved ones and herself. In 1983, her husband and herself migrated to the United States and relocated to Roswell, New Mexico.
Due to limited opportunities being a migrant in the United States, she took advantage of the Amnesty (The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986) and became a legal permanent resident on August 2nd, 1995.
A goal that Mrs. Gutierrez always pursued is becoming a United States Citizen. She found out about the opportunity through Mrs. Cecilia Najera at our Roswell Catholic Charities branch. Mrs. Najera encouraged and advised her to apply for her citizenship.
Despite that Mrs. Gutierrez suffered several strokes and had tremors in her voice, she applied in September of 2021, received her interview on November 3, 2021, and received her certificate of naturalization on January 7, 2022.
Mrs. Gutierrez is a housewife and will remain supportive and advise her children and husband to always do better in life and not to settle for simple tasks but to always find a way to succeed.
Mrs. Gutierrez mentioned that she would recommend Catholic Charities to anyone who is seeking any type of immigration assistance. Also, she would go out of her way and do anything possible to assist. She also mentioned that she is extremely thankful for all the help she received from Catholic Charities. She is now happy that she can vote.
From limited opportunities to make a living in his mother country to migrating to find a better life in the United States, Raul is an example of hard work and dedication to reach the American Dream.
Raul, 59, grew up in a small rural town in the country of Guatemala named San Agustin Acasaguastlan. He is a well-educated and hard-working man as he wakes up every morning at 4 AM to go to school and work.
After graduating high school, Raul decided to leave his hometown due to limited opportunities and enroll at Galileo University in Guatemala City. To pay his tuition and support himself, he worked numerous jobs to stay on his toes and be successful such as working in a supermarket, and numerous jobs at the La Aurora (Guatemala City) International Airport as a messenger, radio operator, and manager.
Throughout Raul’s collegiate career, he studied English and intensive care. After graduation, he pursued a nine-year career as a manager of human resources in Guatemala City.
Limited opportunities in his home country set Raul back from accomplishing his goals and ambitions. In 2005, Raul decided to migrate from Guatemala to the United States to look for a better life and relocated to Dallas, Texas at the age of 35.
One of Raul’s biggest struggles was his immigration status and the system of work here in the United States compared to his home country. Not being fluent in English also set a barrier along Raul’s immigration journey.
Along his immigration journey, Raul decided to work in New Mexico and was in charge of the department of mechanics for a company in New Mexico.
Raul’s health condition limited him in many aspects as he suffered two heart attacks before coming to New Mexico to work. Raul would lodge in a single-wide trailer with multiple people in New Mexico, which he recalled as a struggle.
One night, Raul became a victim of abuse as a man started punching him in his sleep. Raul called this experience horrifying and haunting due to leaving a big mark on him after suffering two heart attacks.
Due to his immigration status, Raul was timid to ask for legal help as he feared deportation and losing everything he was working for at the moment.
Raul found out about Catholic Charities due to an unnamed person informing him about the legal representation Catholic Charities provides.
He reached out to Catholic Charities and mentioned that it was one of the best decisions he has ever made. He admires Lorena and Elizabeth for always being there for him during difficult times throughout his court case.
Unfortunately, Raul received a third heart attack after he won his court case. With all the odds stacked against him, Raul received his U-Visa while recovering in the hospital.
He mentioned that he feels more secure with his U-Visa and more liberty living here in the United States. Raul is still ongoing with his immigration journey due to having to apply for his green card in December 2022.
Raul plans to leave a positive impact on the world. He wants to work to the age God will allow him and show his trade to his son and retire comfortably.
Raul, 29, from Cuidad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, turned to Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico for immigration assistance. Since the age of 16, CCSNM has assisted Raul throughout his immigration journey.
In 2004, Raul’s parents decided to seek a better life for their children, and they migrated to the United States when Raul was 13 years old. Raul and his family relocated to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where they have been living here since then.
Growing up in Las Cruces, Raul and his family lived in a single-wide trailer with another family, which was a struggle for him. Raul and his two sisters had to share a room to have a bed to sleep in.
One of Raul’s biggest barriers as a migrant and growing up in the United States was speaking English. Raul attended Mayfield High School they struggled throughout his high school years due to not being fluent in English and not being accustomed to it. Even though this struggle posed a risk to his education, Raul was able to graduate high school and achieved his goals.
After high school, he pursued a CDL certification to become a driver. He has now been working for the same company for 9 years as a supervisor.
Raul was granted his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012 as then-President Barack Obama initiated the immigration policy of DACA. Out of his two sisters, he was the only sibling that was able to qualify for DACA, which he considers himself very fortunate.
Raul remained in the DACA program until 2018 when he applied and received his residency.
He was able to receive an Adjustment of Status, through marriage, with Ms. Kelser in 2017.
Raul is now working on his citizenship by naturalization, in which one of his biggest goals in life is to become a U.S. Citizen.
Apart from becoming a naturalized citizen, Raul is now working to start his own business.
Over 100,000 Afghan refugees were evacuated from their homeland due to ongoing wars, genocide, torture, and persecution. Operation Allies Welcome was a coordinated effort to relocate and support Afghan refugees in the United States of America throughout the Afghanistan War until its last days.
Over 5,000 Afghan refugees were relocated to the southern part of New Mexico, especially Holloman Air Force in Otero County, New Mexico.
Afghan refugees who worked for the U.S. military service in Afghanistan and faced persecution, danger, and extortion in their homeland, are eligible for the Afghan SIV program.
The Special Immigrant Visa programs started in 2008 and are administered under the Defense Authorization Act.
Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico and other agencies in the region, worked together as a cohort to assist Afghan refugees who served in the U.S. Armed Forces or under Chief of Mission (COM) authority in the U.S. Embassy Baghdad or U.S. Embassy Kabul.
We look forward to providing services to any Afghan refugees who settled in southern New Mexico and surrounding communities.
MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
Ana and her daughter Emily came to Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico Legal Services seeking assistance from our Citizenship program. Ana is a single, working mother who was born and raised in Las Cruces.
When Ana became pregnant with Emily at the young age of 13, she was sent to Mexico to give birth through a midwife. Ana returned to the United States with Emily shortly after the birth and continued living in Las Cruces.
Although Emily, now 18 years old, had lived her whole life in the United States and dreamed of becoming a nurse, she did not have any legal status and had no formal birth record, which prevented her from enrolling in certain education and training programs.
Our office assisted Emily in applying for derivative citizenship, whereby her mother was able to transmit her citizenship directly to Emily even though she was born abroad. Within several months, Emily received a certificate of US citizenship and is finally able to pursue a career in nursing.
In a letter to our office, Emily said: “Thank you for all the support you have given me. I will always remember how much you have helped me. You have changed my life more than you know and I will always be grateful. May God bless you!”
FAMILY OF 5
Nathan, Lily, and Adam are three siblings who have been living on their own since their parents were deported seven years ago. The family was driving home from church in two separate vehicles one Sunday morning when the parents’ vehicle was pulled over.
The traffic stop led to an inquiry into the parents’ immigration status, and they were removed from the United States shortly after that. Since then, all three siblings have endured the emotional distress of being separated from their parents and have struggled to support themselves financially.
Lily, the eldest, has a small child of her own and found herself in an abusive relationship. Nathan was constantly looking for jobs to help support the family but found it difficult since he did not have work authorization. Meanwhile, Adam tried to stay focused on his studies and was admitted to an accelerated high school program.
All three siblings received free legal services from our Program: Lily obtained a U visa, Nathan was granted Deferred Action (DACA), and Adam became a permanent resident through Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).
They now live under protected status and without fear of being separated from one another.
A YOUNG ENTREPRENEUR
Through the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), Eddy was able to get a work permit and start his own business at age 18. Eddy is a graduate of Onate High School who lives with his parents and helps support them through the income he earns.