From left, Immigrants’ Assistance Center Executive Director Helena da Silva Hughes and AMI President Fernando Nobre.

NEW BEDFORD — Portuguese citizens who are deported from the United States will now have a new program to offer them support and services once they arrive in their native country, according to Immigrants’ Assistance Center Executive Director Helena da Silva Hughes.

The IAC will be working with AMI — a Portuguese non-governmental humanitarian organization that promotes physical, social and environmental health — to facilitate a smooth transition for deportees toward reintegration in their homeland.

The center, which provides support and services to inmates in the Bristol County Correctional Facilities who are facing deportation, will now transmit crucial information regarding deportees’ health and social issues to AMI prior to their repatriation so that an individual plan can be developed to help with their swift social reintegration.

This story first appeared in OJORNAL – HERE

“Deportation has haunted us for so many years,” Hughes said. “I am glad we have this opportunity to work with AMI. In many ways, we have similar missions. It’s like we are speaking the same language… They just do it on a larger scale.”

Created in 1984 by surgeon Fernando Nobre, AMI intervenes in crisis and emergency situations in Portugal and abroad, aiming to fight underdevelopment, hunger, poverty, social exclusion and the consequences of war.

IAC already exchanges deportees’ information with the Azores, but the new collaboration with AMI will strengthen this collaboration and help fill a void in mainland Portugal and Madeira since the NGO has more than a dozen social facilities scattered throughout the country.

Previous research has found that deportees often struggle to reintegrate into the local social structure as a result of limited or no Portuguese language skills since many came to the United States as children and few have close family ties there. Many deportees face challenges with cultural and social skills and they often suffer from chronic illnesses associated with addiction to controlled substances, as well as emotional and traumatic distress post-deportation.

“It is critically important that we share this health and social issues information,” Hughes said. “And, this is more important than ever because we believe that the number of deportations will increase in the near future due to the new U.S. immigration policies.”

According to the latest figures released by the Department of Homeland Security, 251 individuals were returned to Portugal in fiscal year 2015. During that period, 15 Portuguese citizens were removed from the U.S. due to their criminal status.

Figures provided by the Consulate of Portugal in New Bedford show that office handled the cases of 15 Portuguese citizens who were deported in 2016. Fourteen were born in the Azores and one in the mainland. Twelve entered the United States under the Visa Waiver Program and three were Green Card holders.

“In nine of these deportation proceedings (60%), the Consulate was contacted by the deportees themselves or by their relatives, which resulted in seven requests for social support made by this Consulate to competent entities in the national territory,” according to the Consulate.

In the second semester of 2016, IAC provided services to 10 inmates facing deportation to Portugal at the ImmigrationDetentionCenter at the Bristol County House of Corrections in Dartmouth. Of those, six were legal permanent residents and four undocumented immigrants. Two were born in the mainland (Minho and Figueira da Foz), seven in the island of S. Miguel and one in the island of Pico.

In the first semester of 2017, there were 15 inmates in Dartmouth facing repatriation to the Azores and Madeira. The center provided support to 13 of them and was working on interviewing the remaining two. Of those interviewed, five were legal permanent residents.

As of Wednesday, there were seven Portuguese nationals at the Bristol County Correctional Facilities awaiting deportation.

In an email, AMI president Fernando Nobre told O Jornal that anyone who ends up receiving assistance from AMI will meet with a social worker in order to perform a social diagnosis, create an individual plan for that person and refer him/her to internal or outside services deemed relevant to resolve the individual’s situation.

“Services provided to the population supported by AMI’s Porta Amiga Centers can range from supplying basic needs such as distribution of food and meals to providing social, psychological, legal and job search support, among others,” Nobre said.

Most services provided by AMI Centers are free of charge. However, there’s a symbolic fee for using the cafeteria and shower and laundry facilities.

Since AMI’s primary concern is the human being, Nobre said this new collaboration is fully in line with the NGO’s mission to bring humanitarian aid and promote human development, taking into account the Human Rights and the Millennium Development Goals.

This story first appeared in OJORNAL – HERE