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National Justice For Our Neighbors
July 2015 Update 
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Immigration News:
Nepal Granted Temporary Protected Status 
 
 
On April 25, 2015, Nepal was rocked by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that devastated a region ill-equipped to deal with such a massive disaster. The aftershocks resulted in additional tremors, landslides, avalanches and destruction, further complicating recovery efforts. The United Methodist Committee on Relief estimates that nearly 9,000 people were killed. Many more were grievously injured and hundreds of thousands were left homeless.
 
Bhaktapur, Nepal April 26, 2015. Photo: UMCOR/ REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar 

A few months later, on June 24, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson designated Nepal for Temporary Protected Status for the next 18 months—until December 24, 2016.
 
Nepal joins 11 other countries who have been awarded TPS—making it an even dozen. Many of these countries, like Nepal, have suffered through enormous environmental catastrophes. Others, such as Liberia, have experienced horrific and fast-moving epidemics. Still others, such as Sudan and Syria, are engaged in vicious civil wars.
 
In all of these cases, it is nearly impossible for a national to return to his homeland without facing extreme danger or hardship. The governments of these countries have their resources stressed to the limit and cannot adequately care for or protect their citizens.

In 2014, the Migration Policy Institute estimated that 340,000 people were living in the United States under TPS designations. Nationals of countries with TPS are eligible to stay in the United States if: 
  •  They have been continuously present in the U.S. since the effective date their country was designated (or re-designated) for TPS. This can apply to people who are students or tourists in the United States, and also to people who are living here without valid visas or documentation. In the case of Nepalese citizens, they would need to prove they were physically present in the United States before June 24 and have been continuously present since that date.  
  •  They have no serious criminal record. Those who have been convicted of a felony or two or more misdemeanors in the U.S. are not eligible for TPS.  
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services lists three specific benefits for individuals with TPS: 
  •  They cannot be removed from the United States; neither can they be deported nor detained by the DHS on the basis of their immigration status.  
  •  They can work legally and are eligible to obtain an employment authorization document (EAD).  
  •  They may be granted travel authorization.  
While it’s too soon to tell how the JFON network will be affected by the addition of Nepal to the list of TPS nations, JFON is poised to respond decisively, with clinics located in the cities with the highest populations of Nepalese, including New York, Chicago, Houston, and the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Many of our JFON sites already have years of experience working with TPS cases. Haiti, for example, was granted TPS after the 2010 earthquake that killed over 100,000 people and adversely affected an estimated three million more.

The majority of Justice For Our Neighbors South Florida’s clients are Haitian, many of whom have applied for—and received—TPS protection.

“It is a great relief for them,” says Janet Horman, site attorney for JFON South Florida. “They can come out of the shadows and feel confident when they go look for a job.”

Although many TPS applicants have been living in the U.S. for years with undocumented status, there are others who are traveling or studying abroad when disaster hits. Often they cannot cannot return or find there is nothing to return to; their jobs, their homes, their families—everything from their former lives is gone.

“One of my clients worked in an orphanage,” recounts Janet. “She had a tourist visa. She was in Miami on vacation when the earthquake hit Haiti. All 54 children at the orphanage were killed.” Janet pauses a moment to allow the magnitude of this tragedy to sink in. “The enormity of this woman’s loss—“Janet pauses again, shaking her head. “Her grief was overwhelming.”

Haiti’s protected status has been extended twice—it currently ends in January 2016. Our government, Janet points out, has realized that Haiti needs U.S. dollars coming in if it has any hope of recovery.
 
 Survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Photo courtesy of UMCOR. 
 
But Haiti is far from the only country on the TPS list depending on money sent home by people living and working in the United States. The Pew Research Center found that El Salvador—first granted TPS status in 2001 and with an estimated 212,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S. under TPS status—receives a whopping 16.5 percent of its GDP from remittances.

Who gets on the TPS list and who stays on can be partly decided by political pressure, says Janet. The pressure can come from both outside and inside the United States. “The size of the community within the United States and its ability to educate the administration and members of congress may affect the designation of TPS for any particular country,” Janet explains. “There are also times when our government responds to demands for compassion.”

Although benefits and protections come with TPS, it is not an ideal situation. There is the uncertainty of not knowing if the country with TPS will be awarded re-designation. There is the frequent filing of papers, re-registering during each re-registration period, and the fee of $465. Although individuals with TPS are allowed to travel outside of the U.S., the law is, Janet says, “very murky.” They must have additional travel documents and they must absolutely return by the allotted date or risk losing their status. Most attorneys advise their clients without green cards to forego travel outside the United States altogether.

Yet, in spite of its flaws and peculiarities, there is little doubt that the TPS program has provided a safe harbor for thousands of people and enabled many more to rebuild their lives here in the United States. For 15 years, the Temporary Protected Status policy has also given us many opportunities to be good neighbors and to prove ourselves a compassionate and humane people.
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June 15 marked the third anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. Renewable every two years, DACA gives undocumented immigrants who arrived here as children a respite from the threat of deportation as well as legal authorization to work.

In three short years, DACA has transformed the lives of more than 664,000 young people across the United States.

Karla is one of them.
 
 
 
Karla's New Beginning
DACA and a young woman's pursuit of the American Dream  
 
 
Karla was still a teenager when she became an activist. She was a DREAMer, one of the thousands of young people across the United States who are American in every way except for their lack of papers. Today Karla is a beloved client and friend of Justice For Our Neighbors Tennessee, but back then she was fighting for the right to stay and flourish in the country in which she had been raised and the one she considered her home. She began her advocacy career by making the rounds at the Nashville offices of her U.S. representative and senators.

It was an education.

"Hungry for education" Karla presents an apple to Rep Jim Cooper's Chief of Staff.
Photo courtesy of TIRRC. 
 
“We sympathize,” some stone-faced staff member would tell her. “But there are still rules you have to obey.” These words were usually followed by a stiff smile and a “thank-you-please-stop-by-any-time” as they showed her the door.

Others seemed truly sympathetic and tried to soften the blow. “We know it’s not your fault,” they would say. “You can’t be blamed. Your parents brought you here through no fault of your own.”

Did these politicians and their staff members think they were being kind? Did they think it was an act of compassion to tell children to blame the parents they loved for their undocumented status? Or did they just have a hard time looking at this appealing young woman with her hopeful eyes and shy smile and then giving her a flat-out “no?” Did they think of their own daughters at home and the plans and dreams they had for them? Did they happen to glance across the office at their fresh-faced, ambitious interns and fail to see a mirror image of Karla? A girl who wanted to go to college. A girl who wanted to live with dignity and security. A girl who wanted to belong.

“They said we should blame our parents,” says Karla. “It was our parents’ fault. I heard this message over and over again.” She falls silent for a moment, as if finding it difficult to say her next words aloud. “So I began to blame my mom,” she admits, shaking her head, “I began to feel bitterness towards her. “

Karla was only 5 years old when she left her hometown of Jalisco, Mexico.

She has only one memory left of her life there, and it’s the stuff of nightmares: a terror-dark night, a little girl pulling hard on the door to escape, running barefoot through the twisting streets, crying for someone to help her mother. Her father was beating her mother again. He had a pole in his hand, and Karla thought for sure this time he would kill her.

Karla realized the politicians who blamed parents like her mother were dead wrong. “My mom brought me here to save my life,” she states emphatically. “I admire and thank her so much for that. She is the most courageous person I know.”

A dream deferred, not denied.

Karla has been an active volunteer with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition since she was a junior in high school. Together with several other TIRRC volunteers, she founded the student-centered JUMP—Jovenes Unidos por un Mejor Presente (Young People United for a Better Present.) There was a lot to learn. There were training sessions to attend and late-night discussions on strategy. It was an exhilarating time. They were very young, and they were out to change the world. They just didn’t realize yet how long that might take.

In March 2010, Karla joined thousands of other DREAMers across the country for a march on Washington, D.C. Part of the United We Dream coalition, they trudged through the halls of the senate buildings and rallied on the Capitol grounds. They put their hearts and souls into passing the DREAM Act. They came close— and then they watched it fail.
 
The DREAMers take the Hill! Photo courtesy of Nao Bustmante. 

It was a devastating loss. “Our lives shattered around us,” remembers Karla. ”But it made us stronger and more determined. I definitely feel the youth groups put pressure on President Obama. Our efforts made DACA possible.”

“A passionate and effective advocate for immigration reform.”

Meanwhile, Karla’s life was moving forward in an exciting direction. She won a scholarship to attend a local community college. She became part of the prestigious Google Ambassadorship program, acting as a liaison between students and new Google technology. She interned at a healthcare organization. She also received a full scholarship to Lipscomb University in Nashville, where she majored in public relations and digital marketing.

Karla has worked very hard for every achievement, but she remains both profoundly grateful and keenly aware of the burden of expectations placed upon her shoulders. “So many people don’t have these opportunities,” she says. “I knew I was going to school not just for myself, but for everybody.”

All through this time, Karla remained active in the DREAMer movement. She was a youth organizer for TIRCC when DACA came out in 2012. She met Adrienne Kittos, attorney from Justice for Our Neighbors Tennessee at a DACA clinic Karla had arranged. Adrienne would shepherd Karla through the process of receiving her 2012 DACA status and help her to successfully reapply in 2015.

“I love Adrienne so much,” Karla says simply. “Without Adrienne and JFON I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

“Karla is an absolutely lovely young woman who made my job as an attorney very easy,” counters Adrienne. “She was well-organized and responsive when we needed documentation for her DACA case. It is always a pleasure to meet with Karla—she has the most positive, upbeat presence.”

“I live two years at a time, not knowing what is coming next,” Karla says, smiling, reinforcing Adrienne’s assessment of her character. It’s clear that the uncertainty of her existence isn’t going to stop Karla from realizing her dreams.
 
Softening hearts and changing minds—one person at a time.

In 2012, TIRCC began its campaign for tuition equality in Tennessee. It was considered a long-shot, an idea with little hope of advancing in Tennessee’s General Assembly. But in the spring of 2015, they had the governor’s support, and they had won the State Senate. All that remained was the House.

Karla was asked to give testimony. She stood in front of the legislators and began to tell her story. She spoke with eloquence. She told the truth. She made more than one of these public servants really see her—not as a number, statistic, or shadowy “illegal alien” but as a young woman Tennessee should be proud to call one of its own.

Karla changed a few minds that day—including that of Rep. Rick Womick, a hard-liner on immigration issues. He was a “no” vote coming into that session and a “yes” vote by the time it had ended.

Tennessee “has become their home, they’ve grown up here,” he told the reporter from the local paper. “Who are we to say they cannot go on to college?"

Sadly, the bill lost by one vote. Just one vote. But Karla, still in her early 20s, has learned patience. She has enough experience now to know that some failures are merely delayed victories. The bill comes up again next year, and she and her colleagues are confident they can and will have the votes to win this time around.
 
Karla, her mother and younger sisters at her college graduation.  

Karla is now a college graduate and works as a recruiter for her alma mater, Lipscomb University. She serves on many boards that focus on Latino issues in her Nashville community. Of course, she is still an advocate for immigrant justice and a role model for other undocumented youth. She will always be a DREAMer, her eyes fixed firmly on the road ahead when she will achieve her most cherished dream.

“I want more than anything to become a U.S. citizen,” she says. “This is the country I love. I want to give back my talents to the country I was raised in.” She adds, in case there is any doubt, “My country. “
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The New American 
Jacqueline becomes a U.S. Citizen with the help of JFON West Michigan! 
 
 
Jacqueline, her husband and six children, refugees from Burundi, were resettled in Michigan under the auspices of First United Methodist Church—Grand Rapids in 2007.
 
Justice For Our Neighbors West Michigan assisted the family to become lawful permanent residents in 2008.
 
These are all wonderful blessings for a family who had suffered so much loss and hardship. Jacqueline was deeply grateful to her church, her friends at JFON, and to the country that had welcomed her and her family. She wanted to express her love and appreciation in a truly meaningful way. She wanted to become a U.S. citizen. 

She tried to navigate the process with the help of a non-attorney friend from the Burundi community. It was not a success. She came back to JFON West Michigan for help. Together, and with the loving support of her church community, Jacqueline re-filed. She passed the English/U.S. Civics test with flying colors and, of course, proved that she is a person of excellent moral character.
 
She passed! Jacqueline and Liz together.  
 
On June 17th, Jacqueline stood, raised her right hand, and along with hundreds of other new Americans across the United States, took the oath of citizenship:
 
"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."
 
Liz Balck, her JFON West Michigan attorney, caught up with Jacqueline afterwards and asked her about the experience.

“It is an honor and a privilege to become a U.S. citizen,” said Jacqueline, choosing her words carefully. She was still a bit uncomfortable with so much attention. “I'm proud of this accomplishment and what it means for me and my family. Thank you to everyone for helping me.”

“Anything else?” asked Liz.

Jacqueline smiled, her eyes brimming with the sentiments she could not express.

“It’s good,” she said simply.

“Yes,” Liz agreed. “It’s very good!”
 
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