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Denver Immigrant Legal Services Fund receives more money to continue to help community

Migrant explains how she fled for America to escape sex trafficking
Migrant explains how she fled for America to escape sex trafficking 03:08

At 17 years old, Edna Chavez left  Guatemala and began her journey to the U.S. to escape prostitution. Gang members threatened to kill Chavez if she didn't do what they asked of her.

They asked her to entrap other girls, or they would kill her. Gang members threatened to tie her body up in wire and throw her to the river for refusing to sell her body and recruit other girls.

"I did not tell my  family about my situation and till this day, they still don't know why I left," added Chavez.

She tells us she calls her parents often, but they still believe she began her mission to the U.S. for a better life.


She began her journey and spent months traveling until she arrived in Mexico. After working for about a month, she reported herself to border officials. This then led to her spending seven months in a detention center for unaccompanied minors in Arizona in 2019.

"In the seven months that I was in the shelter I felt that nobody loved me and I thought that I was going to go back to Guatemala," said Chavez.

"My only crime was being undocumented and not having somebody to sponsor me," she added.

But that would soon change.

When she turned 18 she was sent to an adult detention center where she spent one day before being sponsored by a couple in Colorado.

"I am grateful they decided to open their doors," expressed Chavez.

They said it would be temporary, but then decided to adopt her. 

It was all possible thanks to the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Center an organization that provides free immigration legal services to children and adults in immigration detention.

Fast forward to today, Chavez is celebrating finishing her first year of college at Colorado State University in Fort Collins but adds it hasn't been easy.

The Rocky Mountain Immigration Advocacy Network has played a big part in helping her throughout her process, from helping her sponsors with the adoption process to working on her immigration case as she now sits on the waitlist for permanent residency.

"I have the chance to go to school and not worry about any debt, and it's been a beneficial thing, I am really grateful for RMAIN," said Chavez.

The organization is able to do this work through funds from the Denver Immigrant Legal Services Fund.

Janet Lopez, Senior Director of Policy, Partnerships and Learning at The Denver Foundation believes this work is extremely important, especially in the climate the city of Denver is in.

"For us legal services is a constitutional basic human right that we think if you live in this country no matter who you are and what your background is, you deserve to have legal representation," said Lopez.

So far more than 2000 people have received help during their immigration proceedings through the fund.

The fund was established in 2018 as a special project fund at The Denver Foundation, to increase legal services to Denver's Immigrant community by providing qualified nonprofit organizations with grants.

These non-profits can then use the funds to offer direct legal representation to immigrants in detention and or subject to removal proceedings. They also look to provide relief to individuals seeking help with DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and other visa programs. The purpose is also to help organizations increase the pool of pro bono or low bono immigration attorneys available to represent immigrants.

The need has grown in Denver since the fund was established. The City and County of Denver approved another $500,000 divided into two years for this fund, making it a total of $2.2 million.

It comes at an important time when the topic of deportation is hot. Deportation is the only legal proceeding in the U.S. where people are detained without access to legal representation.

That's where non-profits like RMIAN come in and apply for funds from the Denver Immigrant Legal Services Fund. If approved, these groups can use the money to provide representation to people subject to deportation.

As Chavez awaits for her status to unfold, she shares that as a first gen college student she wants to continue to be a voice for the voiceless in her community and one day work for NASA.

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