November 2013 Update

 


National Justice For Our Neighbors

Our  goal is to provide hospitality and compassion to low-income immigrants through immigration legal services, advocacy, and education. National Justice For Our Neighbors provides crucial technical and programmatic support to 15 local offices and 39 legal clinics and fosters long-term program success and stability.
Client Story
Justice For Our Neighbors - Tennessee
 
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When the Chinese restaurant where María de la Paz Chávez cooked chow mein and chop suey shut its doors, she knew it was time to leave El Salvador. The single mom of two had seen her San Salvador neighborhood grow dangerous and crime-ridden. Gangs extracted protection money from business owners; many shops closed. She wondered whether her son, then 11, would one day fall in with the gangsters who lurked outside his school.
 
Chávez's own career hopes had dissolved — she dreamed of becoming a nurse — and she didn't want the same thing to happen to her kids. "If you have children," says María, whose name means "Maria of Peace," "you want them to do better than you did." So she boarded a bus for Chiapas and paid a guide $7,000 to take her to Arizona. "It was awful," she says, her eyes streaming. "We slept on a mountain ... walked three days and nights in the desert. There were snakes, coyotes, scorpions. We could hear people crying out at night. It sounded like they were about to die. We thought the same thing would happen to us."
 
Oddly, it was on her horrific odyssey through the rugged Mexican desert that Chávez's confidence took firm hold. The group waited in a safe house, exhausted and hungry. No one took action to get people fed. So she told the guide, "Let's go to the market." She cooked beef soup for the whole group, on Mother's Day of 2005. That's when she realized that being able to do things gave her power and leverage. Even so, Chávez recalls, she didn't feel safe until she set eyes on her brothers in Nashville. She found a job at a Mexican restaurant, and another one cleaning buildings. With those, she started saving money to send for her kids. When her little girl's father joined her from Maryland and offered to help, she was overjoyed.
 
"But he wasn't the same person he used to be," she says. "I lost hope." They began to argue when he insisted she turn over her paychecks to him. And then one day, he hit her. "I wasn't going to put up with that," she says firmly. She called the police and showed them the bruises. They promised to make an arrest.
 
When a domestic violence counselor at MNPD told Chávez that she might qualify for a U visa — available to victims of certain crimes who cooperate with police — she didn't believe it. "I thought, 'I'm undocumented,' " she recalls. " 'This won't work for me.' "
 
Chávez was lucky. She had two advantages: a domestic violence support group that assured her that yes, it would work; and a savvy brother who told her, "Keep your life in order." He advised her to always use her real name (so there'd be a record of her employment history, her cooperation with police, etc.); to keep a single job long term; and to pay her taxes every year. Doing everything by the book helped Chávez immensely when she met with JFON attorneys and applied for the U visa. Even better, she learned that a U visa would extend legal status to her children too. She'd been away from them for more than seven years, saving money to bring them to the States safely — "not the way I came," she says, shaking her head.
 
When she picked up her 19-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter at the Nashville airport last fall, Chávez recalls, "it was beautiful." They hugged her and met their 4-year-old sister for the first time. And they begged her to take them out for pupusas, a Salvadoran specialty.
"I took them to Red Lobster instead," she grins. "I wanted to show them that it's different here."
 
These days, Chávez says she's thinking of opening her own restaurant in Nashville — a city that finally feels like home to her.
 
She cooks scrambled eggs and beans for her husband and kids on Saturday mornings, and then they stroll the park with other moms and kids from her daughter's school. She loves hearing her little girls speak English with each other.
 
But she also wants them to remember where they came from. Some of her Salvadoran friends' kids, she says, act "superior" when they visit home, "like they're afraid to touch the dirt floor, because there's no carpet on it." She likes to remind her two oldest: "You were born there."
Chávez exudes a tranquil, gentle self-respect — evident in the way she called police at the first moment of violence at home, and in the way she raises her kids to see themselves as equal to everyone. She says it's a trait she learned from the grandmother who raised her. "She taught me manners and how to cook," she smiles. "Knowing things gave me confidence. And she told me I didn't have to be afraid."

María de la Paz Chávez spoke through a translator;
Nashville Scene reporter Kim Green
Photo by Eric England
 
Volunteer Spotlight
 
This month the JFON network would like to thank Sue Rudalevige for the time and energy she contributes to Justice For Our Neighbors – New England. 

Sue’s love and compassion for newly arrived immigrants is obvious from the first moment one talks with her.  “I am an immigrant. Although I have been here for 48 years, I understand what it is like to come to a new country.  I want to give them the welcome that they need.”
 
This welcome began in November 2011 when the first Burundi asylum seeker walked through the doors of Hope Gateway UMC.  “We took him home for Thanksgiving and passed a hat around for funds to help him with legal fees.  When one Burundian comes in and gets help – well you know what happens next.”  A ministry was born! Shortly after that, the only local agency that legally represented asylum cases for low-income immigrants became too busy to take on any more cases.  The church decided to hold a few events to raise money so they could become a JFON site -- a tall order for a church with less than 100 attendees.  Their fundraising was a success, and currently Hope Gateway UMC holds a monthly clinic for asylum seekers.
 
 
 Sue (back middle) with clinic volunteers

Additionally, the church is undertaking an exciting new residential project.  Hope House is a home where newly arriving asylum seekers will live in community, surrounded by love, until they are able to obtain permanent housing. 
 
Thank you Sue, for your work and commitment!
 
National Justice For Our Neighbors Attends
Washington, D.C.
 
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"What a fantastic opportunity for immigrant advocates from numerous faith backgrounds-- including United Methodist and JFON volunteers-- to come together with a collective voice for comprehensive immigration reform.  This gathering provided a forum to not only talk directly with our legislators, but also to come home with a strategy for how to engage others and strengthen our efforts for meaningful change."

This is how Rob Rultand-Brown, Executive Director of NJFON, described the summit.  Rob continues, "Justice For Our Neighbors paid for seven representatives around the country to attend this gathering of over two hundred faith leaders.  JFON staff and volunteers see first-hand the failings of an immigration system in which families are separated and workers are exploited.  It is imperative that we tell that story on behalf of our clients and our communities."

Rev. Mark Sandlin of Presbyterian USA added: "It was a day full of immigrant stories, supporting data on how immigration reform is not only something the majority of Americans want but also positively impacts our economy, and the helpful perspective from Dr. De La Torre that immigration reform is about more than just hospitality – it is about restitution for those who helped build this nation and its economy. That's powerful stuff... immigrant voices were heard and it was made undeniably clear that they have an abundance of allies here in the U.S.
 
We may or may not have impacted a paradigm shift in immigration reform but, in many ways, we did something more important…We helped show that immigration reform is more about people and less about policies."
Double Your Impact
Through Matching Fund
 
National Justice For Our Neighbors is providing up to $10,000 in matching funds for each JFON site!  Your donation will go toward helping another dreamer to obtain a work permit, an asylum seeker to not have to return home to persecution, and a refugee family to be united.  And through the end of the year every gift that you direct to a Justice For Our Neighbors site will be DOUBLED! Please contact the JFON site nearest you to donate today!
 
 
What Advocacy Looks Like
 
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Written by Brynne Howard, staff attorney, IOWA-Justice For Our Neighbors
(Pictured at right)

At Iowa Justice For Our Neighbors, we get good news periodically  - a victim of domestic violence is finally able to claim her independence after being granted Legal Permanent Resident status and a young man is granted his citizenship after navigating the long and difficult journey through our current immigration system. We are also the bearers of bad news far more often than we'd like - hardworking husbands, wives, moms and dads with no options to remain legally in the United States despite their deep ties to their communities. 

Occasionally, we even get to see the wheels of real, systematic change in action.  In January, Richard,* an elder from a local church, brought 17 year old Javier to a legal clinic appointment.  Richard was worried.  Javier was brought to the United States from Guatemala as a young child.  He grew up here, learned the language, and studied hard.  He wanted to go to college.  Unfortunately, for many young people like Javier, the immigration laws provide few, if any, options to remain legally.  Javier was clearly disappointed when we explained there were no options for him to remain legally under the current law.  Richard, who had developed a great friendship with Javier, was just as saddened and discouraged.  He wanted to know what he could do.  We reminded him that he still has one powerful tool - his voice.

In March we held another legal clinic.  Richard was there again, this time with Jonathan, another young man with a story like Javier’s.  He had to know that the outlook would be dim, but for some reason Richard was grinning from ear to ear.  As he sat down to meet with us, he couldn’t contain himself.

“I’ve been doing it,” he said.  “I’ve been calling my representatives every week.  I’ve been telling them about these kids that I love.  I’ve been telling them that we owe these kids a chance and they deserve a future.” In that moment with Richard and Jonathan I felt the wheels move, if only an inch.  And I remembered Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”  

*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.



Where We Work

This month we'd like to introduce you to the Bay Area Immigration Task Force.  BAIT is the Justice For Our Neighbors site in the Northern California area.  They operate monthly legal clinics in San Francisco and San Mateo.  This past month they opened a third and much needed clinic in Sacramento!
 
 
Sharron, Belinda and Paula O'Connor (Board Chair)
 
Like many JFON sites, BAIT legal clinics address a very broad spectrum of immigration needs.  Coordinating a team of dedicated volunteers is Belinda Robinson, site director and dedicated volunteer herself.  Sharron Williams is the staff attorney.
 
“If ‘DREAMERS’ existed when I came to the United States – I would be one,” says Sharron, as she reflects on her past.  She was brought to the U.S. for emergency reasons when she was young and she lived here, undocumented, for eight years.  Her work on behalf of immigrants began over 20 years ago with Catholic Charities. Ms. Williams has been practicing immigration law for more than 12 years.
 
JFON BAIT provides legal services and information sessions to hundreds of immigrants each year from around the world, including large numbers of Fujians and Tongans.  Northern California is fortunate to have this ministry of hospitality and legal service.

 

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