In 2014, the JFON network served a record 3,687 low-income immigrant clients, 64 percent of whom were women and children. These individuals came from 66 different countries, with the top 10 being Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Burundi, Sudan, Haiti, Jamaica, Congo and Burma.
We handled an all-time high of 7,642 cases, including the following totals:
-1,372 cases enabling family members to be reunited in the U.S.
-1,467 cases allowing individuals to escape from violence, including domestic violence here in the U.S., and persecution in their home country through an asylum application.
-1,216 cases enabling eligible immigrants to receive authorization to work lawfully in the U.S.
-394 cases enabling immigrants to become naturalized U.S. citizens
-3,193 cases providing advice and counsel to clients so they are aware of their options under U.S. immigration laws and can avoid getting scammed by unscrupulous individuals.
Austin Region JFON positioned to help more unaccompanied migrant children
In June 2014, the number of unaccompanied children (UAC) apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border reached its highest level to date—10,622 in one month. After spending weeks in a government-approved shelter, most would be released to live with family members in the United States. While striving to adjust to their new lives, new schools and new friends, these children also had to cope with their grueling and interminable deportation proceedings.
Approximately 350 of these unaccompanied children were sent to live with relatives in Austin, Texas. Many of them were fleeing horrific gang violence or family abuse. If deported back to Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala, they would face torture, brutality, even death.
These children needed help. They needed advocates. Most of all, they needed good lawyers.
Without legal representation, unaccompanied children have little hope for a happy ending to their story. Those fortunate enough to have attorneys are nearly five times more likely to be allowed to stay legally in the United States than those without.
Photo credit: www.townhall.com
Austin takes the lead
Enter Austin Justice For Our Neighbors, which announced its intention to focus on UAC cases in July. It was a logical and natural step for them, explains Julie Flanders, ARJFON’s legal director, as so many of their cases “involve women and children who have suffered abuses, making them eligible for special protections.”
Julie herself has a strong background in representing unaccompanied children, and she has spent a significant amount of time at the border, developing relationships with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, with other immigrant aid groups, and with all the major players in the UAC crisis.
“I knew exactly what needed to be done,” she explains. “We just didn’t have enough attorneys to do it.”
Knowing that another wave of unaccompanied children would be arriving with the warmer weather in the spring, the two organizations got to work right away. “I was very motivated,” Julie remembers. “I knew this would be a good fit for us.”
Rob Rutland-Brown, NJFON director, agrees wholeheartedly. “We were confident that this UMCOR funding should be directed to ARJFON because of Julie’s experience in working with unaccompanied children, the competence and diligence of their board and leadership, and of the large unmet need in the Austin region,” he states. “ARJFON will also be providing training to JFON attorneys at our sites across the country, preparing them to more ably represent unaccompanied children in their own communities.”
Thanks to UMCOR, Austin JFON now has a new attorney, Rebecca Rosenberg, to focus entirely on their UAC program. They also have a new community liaison/legal assistant, Piper Madison. Due to their partnership with UMCOR and NJFON, Austin JFON is now in the unique position to become a leading voice in UAC legal representation, not just for the JFON network, but for the immigrant legal aid community.
The Best Part
Most importantly, ARJFON is now able to help more of the unaccompanied children who make their way to Texas—the ones Julie counts herself fortunate to work with every day.
“The best part of my job is contact with the kids,” she says fervently. “I find them exceptionally bright, courageous and big-hearted.”
Bright. Courageous. Big-hearted. These are words the children whose lives Julie has changed—saved—would gratefully bestow right back on her.
So would we.
Julie Flanders, Site Attorney for Austin JFON
A Ministry of Welcome, a Mission of Faith
“You don’t have to say ‘God,’” asserts Doris Boruff Peterson, longtime volunteer for JFON Nebraska, “to serve God.”
A call to serve
Doris has been a part of JFON Nebraska since its inception in 2000, when her pastor at Omaha’s Grace UMC was looking for ways his congregation could assist the local immigrant community. Doris, as always, wanted to help.
“I want to help” are four words that exemplify Doris with near-perfection. A lifelong Methodist, Doris has been involved in many ministries over the years, including the worship service, youth groups, homeless shelters, food banks, and child care centers. But there is always one dominant theme echoing through her call to service—helping the people who are “left out…the people who are ignored or told they aren’t wanted.”
Doris helped open JFON Nebraska’s first clinic, greeting potential clients, organizing volunteers, assisting with the intake process, and finding much-needed interpreters. She was in and out of the kitchen, ensuring that everybody had a snack and something warm to drink. She put her considerable organizational skills to the task at hand—to make JFON Nebraska the tremendous resource for immigrant legal aid that it is today.
A gift worth giving
“It has been the most significant thing I’ve ever done in a church,” avows Doris. “Touching people’s lives through this ministry, following God’s direction to love and care for the most vulnerable persons among us, is what this is all about.”
Nearly 15 years later, Doris is still involved with JFON Nebraska, working with the staff to find practical ways the volunteers can be more effective advocates for immigrants. She and JFON staff are planning to hold regularly-scheduled workshops for current and former JFON volunteers, as well as other interested community members.
A thoughtful woman of strength and conviction, Doris seems uncomfortable with expressions of gratitude for her years of service. It should be the other way around, she insists. “JFON has been a gift to me.”
“The American dream is an overused term, but I observe it in the immigrants who come to our clinics,” she explains. “They are just like us. They want the same things we want, the same things our parents wanted for us.”
Doris calls for greater empathy with our immigrant neighbors who may have entered this country out of desperation and are now seeking refuge. “If my father had been in their situation,” she says with certainty, “he would have done the same thing.”