A 16-year-old Greenwich High School student is hoping to make a difference in the current climate of fear and uncertainty over the deportation of illegal immigrants.
In Case of Deportation (ICOD), whose website launched on July 16 at icodhelp.org, is designed to provide actionable information, including a Child Preparedness Plan, for children 8 to 18. In addition to facts and figures about deportation, the site includes information on options available to children whose parent or guardian has been detained and/or arrested; a list of resources — including legal, financial and counseling — to tap into; and suggestions on how to navigate issues about staying in the U.S. or relocating to another country.
“I first started to recognize the issue during my sophomore year,” the initiative’s founder Jody Bell said. “I had a few close friends who were affected (by the nation’s tightening of its deportation policies) — most of them were legal citizens, but had undocumented family members.”
Describing herself as “being political for as long as I can remember,” Bell — who marched in the June 30 Washington, D.C., protest against the administration’s new immigration policies and has participated in various demonstrations at her school — said she is especially concerned about the political ramifications surrounding the issue.
“There’s a very real, increasing risk of being deported,” she said. “And these kids don’t necessarily want to talk to their school counselors about their own family situation for fear that they could wind up being outed. Their only option was to vent to peers like me or other close friends. It’s a really intense time for them.”
Bell was also feeling frustrated until her own counselor suggested she join Girls With Impact, a Greenwich nonprofit that offers the nation’s only entrepreneurship program specifically for teen girls, delivered live from the home or road. The after-school, extracurricular program specializes in a helping its participants with their confidence, empowerment, college prep and career readiness through a 12-week “mini-MBA” course.
Teen girls partner with the group to create businesses, nonprofits or projects to impact their career and college success, Girls With Impact CEO Jennifer Openshaw said.
“Jody’s been able to begin building a network with girls not only in Connecticut and New York, but around the country,” Openshaw said.
Bell said that both Greenwich and New Rochelle high schools are now officially using the ICOD site as an available resource for students looking for help.
“This is an issue that affects my school, my area and my nation,” Bell said. “What I want to do is to help kids figure out what they can do — there’s a lot of information online but it’s so dense that it can be difficult to understand.”
The data on the ICOD site, drawn from the likes of the U.S. Census Bureau, the Federation for American Immigration Reform and CNN, can be sobering: 4.1 million citizens under the age of 18 live with at least one undocumented parent; at least 12.5 million people are currently under threat of deportation; and there has been a 173 percent increase in noncriminal arrests of undocumented persons since the 2016 election.
Since its launch, the ICOD site has drawn inquiries not just from its target audience of children and their parents and guardians, but also from immigration lawyers offering their services, she said.
Bell added that her future path would likely include studying international relations and political science in college, followed by a career “in a leadership role, but not necessarily in the business world. I think I’ll end up doing humanitarian work or political work.”