By Setting Out To Help Her Classmates, This Teen Could Help Thousands

By Setting Out To Help Her Classmates, This Teen Could Help Thousands (Jody Bell, 16, explains how she'll provide advice to families separated via deportation. Source: Girls With Impact.)

When rising Greenwich High School senior Jody Bell heard first-hand from her peers the fears of their parents’ deportation in 2016, she immediately wanted to help.

During the first nine months of the Trump administration, 110,568 individuals were deported compared within the first nine months of the Obama administration, when just 77,806 individuals were deported, according to ICE data.

Bell says that the openness of the Trump administration to advance the goal of removing undocumented individuals served as a greater impetus to take action. That desire became a website, which she calls “In Case of Deportation,” or I.C.O.D for short. I.C.O.D functions as a “hub” for legally born children with undocumented parents and guardians.

A website screenshot for the I.C.O.D. website where two cute little kids hold each other's hands.
The "In Case Of Deportation" website

Bell officially launched I.C.O.D on July 17 just months after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance” policy, which mandated the deportation of all people entering the United States illegally. That policy was later reversed on June 20 due to public criticism.

Since July 24, more than 450 migrant parents have been separated from their children after crossing the border, the New York Times reports.

Youth Radio’s Megan Schellong interviewed Bell to learn more about why she started I.C.O.D.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Megan Schellong: Describe “In Case of Deportation” for those who may not be familiar with it.

Jody Bell: I.C.O.D functions as a sort of hub for legally born children with undocumented parents/guardians. I.C.O.D compiles pre-existing resources, and weaves them together with supplementary writing, to provide a start to end guide for children undergoing potential detainment of guardians.

How did you come up with the idea for I.C.O.D?

When the new administration began to roll out increasingly intolerant policies regarding undocumented immigrants, I noticed that within my high school, several of my peers were feeling extreme anxiety over the legal status of their parents because the kids were born in the United States and are US citizen but their parents are not.

What specific moment did you realize you felt like you wanted to do something for these teenagers?

It was during my sophomore year of high school 2016-17 when many of these anxiety-riddled peers would tell me how they were feeling about the situation, and update me on their home life. They didn’t feel comfortable talking to the school guidance counselors for guidance nor support given the taboo topic, and beliefs that they were going to end up inadvertently outing their parents. It was then that I realized that there really needs to be some sort of group or organization that is geared specifically for these children which is why I started work on the venture.

How did you manage to get I.C.O.D off the ground? What steps did you take?

I did the entire process through Girls With Impact. In April of my sophomore year, I began the 12-week mini MBA program and built a business plan for I.C.O.D. At that point, I spent months and months researching and trying to get an idea of what exactly I wanted to cover on the website. Once that was done and the website was built, Girls With Impact guided me in the process of building a press release and contacting media prior to the release to attempt to have an impactful beginning.

When you joined Girls With Impact, did you know you would be creating I.C.O.D?

I had an idea for what I wanted to create, and I knew that I wanted to help these children of undocumented descent;  however, I wasn’t sure what shape or platform that would take, and Girls With Impact provided the needed guidance on that front.

This sounds like a large effort, who did you turn to for help?

During the research process, I began reaching out to peers for help and input. I would ask them for advice on what to add, and some even offered to take notes and find resources for me. Interestingly enough, during the creation process, the majority of the people who knew of my efforts would offer their help in any way-whether it was through coding the website, translating information, gathering resources, or making connections, everyone was just so eager to help.

What was one of the largest challenges you faced in creating this website?

A lot of the information regarding guardianship and certain legal policies varies from state to state and can be difficult to research and understand without a background in immigration law. Even though at that point I had been researching this topic for around a year, I still had difficulty sifting through the information, so I could imagine how difficult this would be for someone new to the topic.

What responsibility do you think you have in all of this?

While a lot of people who aren’t directly affected by this issue don’t feel the need to directly support those who are affected, it is my personal belief that we are all responsible. As a nation, we have gotten to a point where I barely recognize my own country, and in retrospect, every person residing in this nation could’ve done something more that would have altered the path that we are currently going down. However that did not happen, and we as a nation now must recognize that we must do even more to attempt to remediate the damage that has already been done.

You’re starting to think about ways to expand I.C.O.D to others states. What would that expansion look like to you?

We aim to have I.C.O.D be incorporated into school’s resources around the nation. We believe that every school should have deportation specific resources available for their students, and we hope that I.C.O.D will be included in those.

You’re a senior in high school… what’s next for you?

I most definitely plan on keeping the venture going for as long as needed. Throughout my college planning, that has actually been the main factor to me, and I have already spoken to college professors and representatives on leveraging college resources to further expand I.C.O.D throughout my college career. In terms of my personal studies, I plan on pursuing International Relations and Political Science.

This story was originally published on September 11, 2018.

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