National Justice For Our Neighbors
A ministry of hospitality that welcomes immigrants by providing affordable, high-quality immigration legal services to low-income immigrants, engaging in advocacy for immigrant rights, and offering education to communities of faith and the public.
Success After Foster System Fails
Justice For Our Neighbors-Nebraska
Written by Charles S. Ellison, Legal Director
Cristobal* was born in El Salvador. His father came to the U.S. when Cristobal was an infant. Sadly, his mother could not care for him either and abandoned him when he was 2 years old. He was left in the care of his grandmother until age 12, when she passed away. Effectively orphaned, with nowhere to turn, Cristobal left his country at the age of 13 and took the perilous trip through Mexico before entering the U.S. He was seeking to be reunited with his father. Eventually, he was able to locate his father and was hopeful that his life would turn around.
However, that all changed when Cristobal was 17. At that time, his father was charged and convicted for sexually assaulting a child. This resulted in his father’s detention and deportation from the U.S. Cristobal, with no one to care for him, was placed in the foster care system in Nebraska. Although his state-appointed attorney assisted him while a ward of the state, the attorney was not aware of the immigration implications of his being in the custody of Nebraska. He thus aged-out of the system without resolving his immigration status.
A few years later, Cristobal was arrested, detained and informed by immigration that he had an outstanding removal order. Unknown to him, he had had a hearing of which his father neglected to inform him and was ordered deported for not attending the hearing. At this point, detained and unsure of what to do, Cristobal contacted Justice for Our Neighbors-Nebraska.
Because Cristobal was eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, JFON-NE was able to secure his release from immigration custody and delay his removal. Attorneys with JFON-NE then began to work on a more permanent solution.
Relying upon the class action settlement agreement in Perez-Olano, et al v. Holder, et al, JFON attorneys argued for Cristobal’s eligibility for special immigrant juvenile status, a form of protection for abandoned, abused or neglected children. Immigration authorities agreed with their arguments and granted his petition. This enabled JFON-NE to reopen and terminate the removal order so as to clear the way for Cristobal to be granted permanent resident status.
*Name has been changed
Urgent Humanitarian Crisis Overview
The surge of unaccompanied minors is a migration emergency that is growing in national attention as increasing numbers of children flee violence and extreme poverty in their home country and cross the border into the U.S. Below is a brief overview of this crisis, along with some resources for more in-depth information.
What are the numbers?
Some 60,000 minors have arrived in the past eight months and more than 30,000 are expected in the next four months. While the numbers have been increasing over the past two years, this is an exponential spike and this number is expected to increase.
Where they are coming from?
A majority of the children currently arriving at the border come from the Central American countries of Honduras (28 percent), Guatemala (24 percent), and El Salvador (21 percent), with the bulk of remaining children coming from Mexico (25 percent).
Why are they coming?
There are several main push factors: faltering economies, large youth population, and rising crime and gang activity. There are also pull factors: the desire for family reunification and changing operations of smuggling networks.
What happens to the children when they get to the U.S.?
If a child migrant enters the U.S. as a national of Mexico he/she is eligible for voluntary return as long as this person is not a victim of trafficking. Children from Central American countries are quickly transferred by the Border Patrol into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They are then released into the custody of a relative or family friend. The 10 percent or so that cannot locate a relative are placed into foster care. Currently, the average wait in ORR custody is 35 days. With existing children’s shelters at capacity, military installations are housing many of these children during this wait.
As they are released to a relative, the children are put into removal proceedings. This involves being scheduled for immigration court in the community where they are to live. At this time, the average wait before their court date is 18 months. 60 to 90 percent1 of unaccompanied children are eligible for immigration relief, allowing them to remain in the United States legally. Those granted relief are typically given asylum, Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status (for children who can establish in a state juvenile court that they were abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents), or a U or T visa (for children who were victims of certain crimes or human trafficking).
How is JFON addressing this issue?
JFON’s legal expertise and national infrastructure places it in a unique position to respond to this current crisis both in the short-term and the long-term. Our staff attorney at JFON Austin has extensive experience in SIJ cases and relationships with providers in Texas, where we plan to collaborate. National Justice For Our Neighbors is currently finalizing ways to assist with immediate legal needs within shelters where minors are housed. To address the longer-term need, NFJON is actively pursuing funding to build the network’s capacity to undertake Special Immigrant Juvenile cases for these unaccompanied minors. We will keep you updated as plans progress!
More information on this issue is located here
on our website.
Tennessee-Justice For Our Neighbors
Volunteers Susan Schmidt and Eljay Elia
Susan Schmidt had seen how powerfully life changing the care of a church community can be to immigrants. Her home United Church of Christ congregation organized and ran a thriving Hispanic ministry.
When a few people heard that Hillcrest United Methodist church, a 45-minute drive away, was holding an informational meeting as part of starting a Justice For Our Neighbors program, they came with the intention of offering assistance and advice. What they found was that Tennessee-JFON had an impressive structure in place, including a proven program model, a skilled attorney, and a thorough training. So they went home. And one of them came back. Susan began volunteering immediately after that opening training six years ago and has been a Tennessee-JFON volunteer and supporter ever since.
"It is very rewarding. I feel like I am part of something. My brother has traveled a lot overseas, and my daughter studied abroad. They have received kindness and assistance from individuals in those countries. This is my opportunity to do the same and be helpful to others new to this country.”
A former educator, Susan is now a librarian at a school in the neighborhood of Hillcrest UMC in Nashville, the church which houses the monthly legal clinics. “The confidentiality piece is so important. I have had current and former students come to the clinic, and I am able to assure them that their story is confidential and it will not be told without their permission.”
Susan also sees that the storytelling piece is critical to this legal services ministry. “Sometimes the most important thing that happens at the clinic is that the client gets to share their story. This is a story that they have been afraid to tell anyone else, and it is heartbreaking, but we are there to listen, to cry with them, and pray with them. We send them home with food, and they know they are not alone.”