Our History

The Florence Project continues to provide zealous advocacy to thousands of immigrant adults, children, and families. With a staff of approximately 180 people—and teams continually evolving to respond to rapid policy changes—the Florence Project is the largest organization providing free legal and social services to immigrants threatened with deportation in Arizona.

Christopher Brelje and Charlene D'Cruz, founding Florence Project legal advocates

1989

The Florence Asylum Project is Founded.

An immigration judge calls on the Phoenix legal community to assist thousands of detained people seeking asylum from civil wars in Central America.

With much support, “The Florence Asylum Project” is founded with two volunteers providing free legal services at Florence, Arizona detention centers.

1991

New Name.

Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project name adopted to reflect wider scope of advocacy beyond asylum.

1998

“Pro Se” Model Created.

More people are detained in immigration detention in Arizona. Increased demand for services leads Florence Project to create “pro se” model that empowers detained immigrants to represent themselves.

2000

Children’s Program Created.

Florence Project launches Children’s Program to serve increasing number of unaccompanied minors detained in Arizona.

2001

Integrated Social Services Program Launched.

A team of social workers created to assist clients with challenges that arise outside their immigration cases, such as finding housing or medical services upon release from detention.

2007–2012

Arizona Defending Immigrants Program.

Florence Project runs “Arizona Defending Immigrants” program, consulting public defenders on immigration consequences of criminal convictions.

2013

“Franco” Decision.

“Franco” decision mandates that adults with serious mental health issues deemed incompetent to represent themselves be appointed legal counsel.

2014

Tucson Office Opens.

Having already established offices in Florence and Phoenix, Florence Project opens Tucson office to serve growing number of unaccompanied children detained in Southern Arizona.

2016

Development Team Created.

Development Team created to increase resources to support ongoing services, increasing need, and strategic initiatives.

2017

New Policies.

Administration attacks immigrants’ rights with new policies restricting access to asylum.

2018

Family Separation Crisis.

Florence Project serves hundreds of migrant parents, children, and siblings forcibly separated at the border.

Partnership With Kino Border Initiative.

Offer services to asylum seekers in Nogales, Sonora, MX.

2019

Number of Immigrants Detained in Arizona Doubles.

Florence Project expands Adult Services and Social Services teams to increase impact.

Advocacy Team Created.

Adovcacy Program launched to pursue lawsuits, congressional outreach, strategic partnerships, and communications to push for more humane policies.

2020

“Remain In Mexico”.

People who are migrating in Mexican border cities are trapped. Florence Project establishes Border Action Team to serve more individuals on the border and respond to changing situations.

Remote Work.

In response to COVID-19, Florence Project switches to remote work. Adult Team creates free hotline to receive calls from ICE detention.

Title 42 Order.

Title 42 order effectively closes the border. Florence Project Children’s Program creates Rapid Response Team to assist children held in hotels and threatened with expulsion.

2021

Co-Executive Director Model Launched.

This will increase leadership capacity and help manage organizational growth.

Proyecto Solidaridad Launches.

Staff union, Proyecto Solidaridad, launches. Florence Project leadership voluntarily recognizes union within days.

2022

Representation-For-All Campaign.

The Florence Project receives transormative gift from MacKenzie Scott to launch a representation-for-all legal services model in Arizona.