Annual Report

A Desire to Survive and Recover:

Emiliano's Journey

“Stick out your tongue if you can understand,” a nurse told Emiliano*. The 16-year-old boy lay in a pediatric care facility in Phoenix, Arizona, paralyzed and unable to speak or move his head. “Blink your eyes if your name is Emiliano,” the nurse suggested. And he did. Sticking out his tongue and blinking his eyes were the only movements he could use to communicate.

Emiliano became disabled while migrating into Arizona through the rugged Sonoran Desert. In 2020, when these events occurred, a record number of migrants died in the U.S. borderlands; Customs and Border Protection found 254 human remains that year. And 2021 would prove even more deadly.

The ongoing militarization of the Southern border and policies halting access to asylum at U.S. ports of entry have forced people to attempt treacherous crossings in hostile climates and mountainous terrain.

Border Patrol agents found Emiliano alone and near death after receiving an emergency call. Severe dehydration had caused him to suffer a stroke that resulted in debilitating brain damage. He was taken to a hospital, and later to a long-term pediatric care facility. The Florence Project’s Children’s Program meets with unaccompanied children in Arizona to provide them with free legal and social services. 

But Emiliano’s condition was so dire, our Children’s Program was informed by the government that he was unlikely to survive.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which holds custody over unaccompanied immigrant children, identified Emiliano and contacted his family. His mother gained permission to enter the U.S. temporarily to be with her son. If Emiliano remained in a coma, it would be up to her to decide whether to continue life support or end his palliative care.

Fortunately, Emiliano awoke. Shortly afterward, he gained the ability to communicate through facial gestures. Then in April 2021, the Florence Project was alerted that he did, in fact, need our advocacy. The Department of Homeland Security had already sought to expel Emiliano back to Mexico through Title 42—the policy blocking access to asylum at the time—until his doctors warned that he would likely die in transit.

Without immigration status, Emiliano remained vulnerable to deportation. The Florence Project’s legal and social services team responded immediately, understanding the life-or-death ramifications of his case.

In 2022, The Florence Project served people from 74 countries, and our clients spoke a combined 42 languages!
Our Impact in 2022

Click on any box to learn more about the services each program provides.

Children's Program


unaccompanied children received “Know Your Rights” presentations.


children received direct legal representation.


children aged five or younger received legal aid—many of whom were unable to express what happened to them.

Adult Program


adults received “Know Your Rights” presentations.


legal educational packets were mailed to individuals in immigration detention.


adults received direct legal representation, including 117 people who a judge had deemed unable to represent themselves.

Social Services Program


people received lifesaving social services, including 311 unaccompanied children. We help our clients transition out of detention, assist with their cases, and facilitate access to medical treatment, mental health support, education, job resources, and more.


cases of family separation responded to with advocacy to reunify the families.

Border Action Team


people at the border in Nogales, Sonora, and Nogales, Arizona, received legal orientations, consultations, and other services.


Title 42 exceptions achieved for people now safely pursuing asylum in the U.S

Pro Bono Program


new legal matters pursued, including cases taken by outside pro bono attorneys recruited and mentored by Florence Project staff.


children received full legal representation.


children received full legal representation.

Advocacy Team


cases presented to the Ninth and Fifth Circuit courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals.


amicus briefs signed or drafted by our team.


advocacy efforts joined with other national legal service providers or humanitarian organizations.


local and national news stories featured our work.

Mission Moments in 2022

In 2022, the Florence Project advocated for clients through media, Congress, and federal agencies; added new positions; and received a historic philanthropic gift. Here are some of the most impactful mission moments that we accomplished with your support!

January 2022
Advocated for People Displaced at the Border by Title 42

“It should not take a call to a congressperson for a child with blood clots in the brain or [a] tangled spinal cord to be considered urgent humanitarian circumstances.” - Chelsea Sachau, Border Action Team Managing Attorney, speaking to Buzzfeed News

After waiting for weeks or months for a response to our requests for humanitarian parole or Title 42 exceptions for displaced migrants with severe medical conditions or urgent security concerns, we advocated for our clients through the media. It was only after seeking to escalate our complaints to Congress that several of the requests were granted.

March 2022
Co-Hosted Vigil Commemorating Second Anniversary of Title 42
In partnership with the ACLU and ACLU of Arizona and in solidarity with Los Revolucionarios, migrant organizers in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, we co-hosted a vigil commemorating the second anniversary of Title 42, honoring all the people who were harmed by the policy, and calling for its end.
April 2022
Filed Complaint Regarding the Abuse of Children in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Custody

“[CBP] is an agency that should have nothing to do with children.” - Laura Belous, an advocacy attorney, quoted by the Marshall Project

In 2021, the Florence Project filed more than 130 individual complaints to the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on behalf of children who suffered mistreatment, including excessive detention, verbal and physical abuse, deprivation of medical care, insufficient food and water, family separation, and other human rights violations while in CBP custody.

After compiling these individual complaints and seeing trends of mistreatment and abuse endure for years, we knew that more advocacy was warranted, and we filed an organizational complaint with the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in 2022. Two months later, the Marshall Project and Politico published “No Place For A Child,” an alarming investigation into CBP’s long history of mistreatment of children, partly based on Florence Project interviews with over 6,000 minors about their experience in CBP custody.

July 2022
Advocacy Team Grows: Advocacy Social Worker and Policy Coordinator Join the Team

We added new positions to our Advocacy Team, an Advocacy Social Worker and a Policy Coordinator. The Advocacy Social Worker engages closely with attorneys and legal assistants on the Advocacy Team and throughout the organization to pursue systemic change. In 2022, she focused on helping detained adults file complaints about issues affecting them, such as medical neglect, excessive use of solitary confinement, inadequate and inedible food, and other inhumane conditions.

Our Policy Coordinator focuses on advocating for our clients with legislators at the state and federal levels to ensure the voices of the Florence Project and our clients are heard in the rooms where decisions are made. She also represents the Florence Project in national coalitions.

August 2022
DHS Stops Enrolling People in ‘Remain in Mexico’
The Florence Project advocated for four years to end “Remain in Mexico,” the Trump-era program that forced people to wait unprotected in Mexican border communities while their asylum claims were adjudicated. While it was in effect, the policy put tens of thousands of asylum seekers in grave danger. In August 2022, the Department of Homeland Security began the process of unwinding the policy, a long overdue victory for people seeking protection in the United States and their advocates.
October 2022
Adult Trafficking Response Team Is Formed

In addition to our Youth Trafficking Response Team, we established a similar team within our Adult Program. Having a dedicated team will allow us to deepen our impact and allocate resources specifically to identify and serve adults who have been victims of trafficking or are at-risk of trafficking.

Florence Project and Partners Sue Detention Centers for Violating Due Process

The Florence Project and other legal services organizations filed a lawsuit against several Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers for unlawfully preventing attorneys from communicating with detained immigrants.

At Florence Correctional Center (FCC) in Arizona, barriers to counsel include a lack of private attorney visitation rooms, insufficient interpretation services, and barriers to in-person access to counsel for people in medical and mental health observation or segregation. We succeeded in securing a court order requiring ICE to install either private attorney-client visitation rooms with access to phones for interpretation or phones for fully confidential and private calls with counsel. The court also found that the barriers ICE has erected blocking access to counsel and the restrictions in place at FCC are both excessive and punitive and likely unconstitutional.

November 2022

Throughout 2022, the Communications Team worked to collect and archive the stories of previously detained people for “DETAINED: Voices from the Migrant Incarceration System,” a collaboration between faculty at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, the Florence Project, Salvavision, and previously detained individuals. In addition to oral histories, the archive includes art, correspondence, and other artifacts. Through this collection, the public has the opportunity to hear directly from people who have been detained in Arizona, and we hope to change the permanent, historical records regarding immigration enforcement.

As we look to the future, we know we cannot do any of this work without you. Thank you for your unwavering support.

Where are they now?
Uplifting News from Former Clients
An Inspiring Example: Jeff's Giving Story

"Twenty years ago, Jeffrey Topping visited a detention center in Florence, Arizona, on a photography assignment for The New York Times. He and the newspaper’s reporter wanted to meet an Iranian cyclist who had been detained at the U.S. border while biking around the world. We helped facilitate the interview.

“After the assignment I looked more into the Florence Project and stayed in contact with the people there,” Jeff says. “I learned about how they help people who need asylum—people in detention who need help legally and have no economic resources.” Jeff’s work also led him to witness the immense challenges migrants face at the U.S.- Mexico border.

“I did enough [photojournalism and reporting] to learn about the situation and the hardships, and what people deal with while in detention. If it wasn’t for me being a journalist, I may never have learned about the Florence Project, and its work to fight for these individuals’ rights and guide them through the system and help reunite them with family and loved ones.” Jeff became a donor in 2009; he has made gifts to our mission every year since, and now leaves a legacy in his will.

“With the immigration issues in this country, there needs to be constant involvement from people,” Jeff says. “I’m just happy to do what I can. Contributing to the endowment is one way I can do that.”

Jeff is building a legacy founded on the core value that every person deserves to live safely and be treated with dignity. His willingness to plan beyond his lifetime ensures that people threatened with deportation in Arizona will continue to enjoy these values for years to come. We feel grateful and inspired by his profound generosity.

Legacy gifts, whether designated for the endowment or unrestricted, allow us to better plan for our future and to ensure we are able to serve immigrants for years to come. We invite you to make a planned gift in support of our work today. Estate planning is now free, accessible, and confidential for our generous community through our partnership with FreeWill.

2022 Pro Bono Appreciation Event

In October, we hosted our first in-person Pro Bono Appreciation Event in three years! We expressed our gratitude to the generous pro bono attorneys, community partners, and volunteers who went above and beyond donating their time and skills to our clients and our mission.

Volunteers increase our capacity to provide free legal services to adults and children in removal proceedings, serving as critical partners in our pursuit of justice. It is an honor to work with these talented and dedicated advocates.

Thank you to all donors, volunteers, and supporters who helped create bridges to justice in 2022! We would not be able to do our work without the generosity of this community.

2022 Pro Bono Award Winners

Thank you to all our2022 Pro Bono Attorneys
2022 Foundations and Law Firm Partners
2022 Board of Directors
Thank you

to our board of directors and our supporting foundations and law firm partners. We could not do this work without you.

Board Spotlight:

Andy Silverman Receives Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser Award

Andy Silverman, a founding member of the Florence Project’s Board of Directors, received the Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southern Arizona Chapter. Andy’s dedicated service to the Florence Project has spanned over three decades, and his wisdom, leadership, and commitment are truly irreplaceable.

2022 Financials
Thanks to your partnership, the Florence Project was able to maintain a strategic reserve to fund our ongoing growth and address the increased need for immigration advocacy and defense in Arizona. Your support allows us to advocate against unjust policies at the border and rapidly respond to global events. We will continue to strategically secure our future, and, as always, we will put every dollar toward meeting the needs of detained immigrants. Thank you for standing with us!

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2023 is shaking out to be a great year.

We hosted our Spring Client Appreciation Event in-person for the first time since 2019!

This video and our cover photo are from that event, which was made possible through your gifts in 2022.

Thank you for your support!

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