Persistence in the Face of Obstacles
Araceli* came to the U.S. from Mexico as a single mother with her six children. She left Mexico because her husband had an affair and as a result Araceli contracted HIV. Her options for work and health care were severely limited in her home town, so her brother, a U.S. citizen, encouraged her to come to the U.S. without papers. Though her brother had petitioned with Immigration for her to join him when he first arrived to the U.S. in the 1999, the waitlist for U.S. citizen siblings from Mexico is so backlogged that she is still "waiting in line" fifteen years later.
I was privileged to represent her in becoming a permanent resident, which allows her to legally stay and work in the U.S. It was a long process. First, Araceli’s daughter was able to adjust her status when she married her U.S. citizen husband. She was able to obtain her citizenship in three years based on her marriage. Only after the daughter became a citizen could she petition for her mother. And yet, this was not enough. A person can only apply to become a permanent resident if they entered with a visa or if they have proof of a petition filed on their behalf prior to April 30, 2001.
Fortunately, even though Araceli recently arrived without papers, her brother had submitted that petition for permanent residency for Araceli before the cut-off date.
Araceli shared with me how she struggled as a single mom to provide for all of her children while maintaining her health. Her oldest daughter (who began working at age 13) does odd jobs to help support the family because Araceli’s income is not enough. Araceli has our admiration as she continues to make a better life for her family through the hard work of overcoming daily difficulties.
*Not her real name. Photo credit Dreamtime
Hospitality in our Heartland
By Melissa Bowe, NJFON Program Manager
Decorah is about 15 miles south of the Minnesota-Iowa border and is the northernmost town in Iowa. It is also the newest clinic location for Iowa-JFON. I had the distinct pleasure of flying to Wisconsin a few weeks ago and driving across farm country to the new clinic to meet and train their volunteers.
One thing was clear from the onset of my visit: legal information for immigrants is in high demand. I don’t know how many of you remember when the “Postville Raids” swept the news a few years back, but I sure do. I remember watching images of kids crying as their parents were taken away in buses. I remember the community speaking out. And I also remember the story disappearing as other headlines took our attention in a different direction. Here is a little reminder taken from ThinkProgress.org,
In May 2008, over 1,000 Homeland Security agents in full SWAT gear, helicopters and SUV descended on the small town of Postville, Iowa. 300 undocumented workers were detained at Postville Agriprocessors, a kosher meat packing plant. 300 of the 389 workers served five month jail sentences before getting deported. Many did not have prior criminal convictions. In the days and months following, more than 1,000 individuals who were not caught in the initial raid, most of Guatemalan origin, left the small town of nearly 2,300…The cost of the raid totaled over $5 million. In the end, the raid has been viewed as a disastrous approach to undocumented immigration control.
For more of an in depth look, check out this free, internationally recognized documentary entitled “Abused.”
Protest Rally in Postville.
The folks in Postville, Decorah, and other neighboring towns are still living with the aftermath of that Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid. Although demographics have changed a bit (Postville’s Latino community was largely replaced by Palauan Islanders who could legally work because of its U.S. protectorate status, and were then replaced by Somali immigrants), Decorah volunteers spoke freely about the fear and isolation their immigrant brothers and sisters expressed on a day-to-day basis. Community members are still grieving the loss of family members who were deported, their family having been permanently fractured.
An interfaith coalition, mainly stemming from Northeast Iowa’s Peace and Justice Center, is dedicated to creating a new landscape for immigrants and Iowa-JFON's expansion to Decorah will be part of this new, welcoming and inclusive effort. JFON attorney Ann Naffier will travel to Decorah once every three months and provide free legal services, alongside our typical hospitality, child care and intake clinic components. The clinic leadership team is working with representatives from the different immigrant communities in their area to work out shuttles to the clinic and have also developed partnership with a Spanish Professor at the local university who will send her students to volunteer as interpreters at the new clinics.
Knowing that we are bringing such needed services to a community still healing from a traumatizing, dehumanizing event makes me proud of what we do at JFON. Please join me in welcoming Decorah, Iowa as one of our newest clinics in the network!
JFON Network Growth: Serving More Clients Than Ever
Melissa Bowe (front, 2nd from left) with Hicksville clinic volunteers and New York-JFON attorney T.J. Mills (back, first on left)
It is an exciting time for JFON growth. The JFON network has welcomed five new clinics at United Methodist churches in the past few months, two of which are part of brand new JFON sites. NJFON Program Manager Melissa Bowe's recent travels have included Hicksville, New York, Woburn, Massachusetts and Decorah, Iowa, where she conducted clinic trainings. She also led a remote training for the new Arapaho, Texas clinic. In September, she had the privilege of meeting the board of directors for one of our newest sites, South Florida. While in Florida, she trained clinic volunteers as well as attended their first clinic. South Florida-JFON offers the unique opportunity to provide legal services to the farm worker community given Homestead UMC’s close proximity to South Florida’s “farm country.”
In the upcoming months, she is planning to travel to Houston, Texas, to train the new volunteer teams for our other new site: Houston/East Texas JFON. Traverse City, Michigan will be another stop to help launch the newest clinic for JFON-West Michigan.