Q: Can you please introduce yourself, the El Paso office, and your role at KIND?
My name is Marcela Evans. I am the managing attorney at KIND’s El Paso field office and oversee the team of lawyers, paralegals, and social service coordinators. In this role, I have been able to combine my experience in providing legal representation to unaccompanied children with leadership and program development. The El Paso office provides Know Your Rights presentations and tailored legal screenings for children who are at the Fort Bliss Influx Care Facility (ICF), using KIND’s child-focused, trauma-informed practices. In the Know Your Rights presentations, children learn about their rights in the shelter, the immigration system, the rights and responsibilities that they have as children in the United States, and the importance of doing an immigration process and working with KIND or an organization like KIND to help them navigate that process. We then have individual meetings with the kids to learn more about their cases and how they are doing in the shelter, answer any questions they have, and do a welfare check. We want to make sure the kids are doing all right.
What I am really excited about is that we are expanding our work beyond providing legal services at Fort Bliss. As we have gotten our feet planted in El Paso, we are coming up on one year as a field office and we are expanding our work to serve children who have been released from Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) care. Later this month, we are starting to accept cases for legal representation of released children to help them navigate their immigration case processes. As we expand, KIND is building on the strong community that already exists in El Paso to collaborate with the community and longstanding legal service providers so that we can all work together to best serve unaccompanied children.
Q: What is your favorite thing about your team?
It is amazing to watch the team operate because each one of our team members really knows and understands our systems and processes and performs their roles so well. What that means is that there is a beautiful network of people that the children experience working well together, building children’s trust in the system through their absolute competency. As soon as the kids walk in, they can see that these folks really know what they are doing. Then the kids sit down for their large group presentation and are greeted with a KIND staff member who leads the kids through a jeopardy slideshow game and then provides a really interesting presentation on law. Through that game and presentation, KIND staff communicates to the kids, “Hey, these are your rights and your responsibilities, and this is immigration law and here’s how it’s interesting and important.” I love seeing that and how it builds confidence with the kids.
Q: You’ve been in the immigration space for a while and worked specifically with unaccompanied children. What makes KIND unique in this space?
What first drew me to KIND, and why I am excited to be a part of KIND, is that we have such a comprehensive approach to the work. I am part of the legal services team, so we do the legal service provision. Then there is social services team and policy and advocacy work and watching how influential that can be and how they operate so expertly in their sphere is really inspiring, not to mention all the international work that KIND is doing in Central America, Mexico, and Europe. Another thing that makes KIND unique is that we are also working to address root causes of why children have to move, and trying to make the communities from which the kids are coming safer, in case they have to return or so that they never have to leave in the first place. It is this comprehensive global perspective that KIND has that I love being part of.
Q: In the spirit of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day this month, could you reflect a bit on how you see yourself as a woman leader?
I really appreciate being described as a leader. It is a description of honor and something that I have sought to gain competency in and to become very intentional about in my work. Women bring so much into the leadership roles, and I think women naturally embody a lot of positive leadership qualities in every position that we have throughout our careers.
For my role with this team, being the managing attorney in this office is something that I care deeply about because we have a responsibility for the work that we do with the children who we serve. Part of my role is keeping our team functioning well and keeping our team members healthy and whole as they provide these vital child-centered services. I do not have as much involvement in the direct services. My job is to create an environment in which each one of the team members in El Paso has the ability to show up as their best, most authentic, and whole self for the services so that they can healthily engage in those child-friendly approaches and child-centered services.
Q: What do you see as the special vulnerabilities, but also strengths and resilience, among women and girls, whether it be KIND clients or in your colleagues?
With our clients, there is a lot of well-documented case law and case examples of country conditions that do not treat women well and the violence and harms that can come to women and girls in different countries around the world. In my experience over the years, I have seen many incredibly strong girls and women who come through these experiences, with this really strong spirit and character. As you work with them in the way that an attorney or a paralegal at KIND does, people start to reclaim their stories and their power. They start to recenter themselves not as victims, but as survivors. It is an amazing way for them to step beyond where the harms were and where the vulnerabilities lie. Because most of the vulnerabilities are systemic, rather than having to do with the individual.
And then there are the women within the immigration legal services community, who form an incredibly strong and powerful group of women. The community of legal service providers for immigrant children is made up of predominantly women—women in leadership roles and throughout the ranks of many organizations and these women really drive the work forward. This is something to celebrate. These women are strong advocates for children, and they do it with such spirit and heart. This is difficult work, and here we are leaning in, doing the work. It is a truly beautiful thing. And each one of us who is part of this, part of this work and part of this community, need to embrace the good work and the strength that we are putting forward every day.
Q: To conclude, is there anything else you want to mention?
I want to highlight the work of the incredible El Paso team and the strength of the folks who are engaging in the work, specifically in the difficult environment that we are in here in El Paso. Each person comes in with energy and profound dedication to being the very best version of themself for the children. The team members make sure that the children are getting the protections that they are supposed to get and the information that KIND knows is so important for the children to receive. At the same time, the team makes sure that the individualities of each child are being recognized, even within the large facility environment that very easily could erase those. It is a team I am proud to be part of.