National Justice For Our Neighbors
August 2014 Update
Dream of Becoming U. S. Citizen Realized
Justice For Our Neighbors-West Michigan
Written by Liz Balck, Site Attorney
 
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John*, a "lost boy" from Sudan, became a United States citizen in January.  (See UNICEF for more information on "lost boys.") A local family - the Smiths - had informally adopted John when he first came to the U.S. as a refugee.  Over the years, the Smiths wrapped John into their family.  John became a lawful permanent resident ("green card" holder) about a year after he arrived in the U.S.  Then, two years ago, the Smiths scheduled an appointment for John at Justice For Our Neighbors-West Michigan, asking us to help him become a U.S. citizen.  The Smiths accompanied John to his appointments at JFON and helped him navigate the more complex requests we made of him, like remembering all trips he took outside of the U.S. since becoming a green card holder and tracking down a traffic ticket from years ago.  

John suffered unimaginable trauma as a child in Sudan, which has made it difficult for him to cope with life in general.  Like so many boys and young men in his situation, John numbed his pain with alcohol.  After two arrests for drinking-related crimes, John got the help he needed to get sober and constructively deal with his past.  We had to wait to file John's citizenship application until after five years had passed since he was last arrested, in order to prove that he was a person of good moral character.

John was working two jobs when we first met him, but he told us that he quit one job so that he could start taking college courses at Grand Rapids Community College.  

John passed the English and U.S. civics tests with flying colors in December.  We were also able to prove to the immigration officer that John had turned his life around and has been - and will continue to be - an asset to our country.  John took the oath of allegiance to the U.S., his adopted home, last January.
 
*John is not his real name.  An inspiring eight-minute video of JFON assisting another "lost boy" is available here.

Legal Clinic to Start in Decorah, Iowa
 John Rothlisberger's Story of Joining the Team
 
 
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Act upon the life and teachings of Jesus as an example of the need for social responsibility.

Respond to the pain of those who are victimized and forgotten.

Value the dignity and autonomy of all of God’s children.
      
Approach multi-cultural settings with understanding and respect.

These are the stated course outcomes for the “Mission and Social Concerns” class of the United Methodist School for Lay Ministry.  These could also easily be the descriptions for John Rothlisberger’s life, which professionally involved him serving as an educator, education administrator, and district superintendent of schools in Iowa.  John’s most recent position was that of interim superintendent for the Postville Community School District, which is well known for having very diverse immigrant populations. 
 
John's career focus of serving  school children and their families became especially important after the infamous Postville Raid in 2008 when the immigrant community was ripped apart.  “The only good thing that came out of the raid was that it brought to light the abuse the people of power inflicted upon the immigrant workers,” says John.
 
Upon retiring from the field of education management, he enrolled in the School for Lay Ministry, a 12-course program to identify, train and nurture lay people to serve in, through and beyond the church in various ministries. He is currently a dean for this program, and it was through his involvement with this school that God arranged one of the serendipities that often happen in ministry.  
 
While standing at an information table at the Iowa Annual Conference representing the School for Lay Ministry, John began talking with a representative of the local United Methodist Hispanic ministry, who told him about Iowa-Justice For Our Neighbors. He had recently become aware of the lack of options for affordable legal representation in the Postville area, and now he saw potential for help.  Not deterred by the 3 ½-hour drive to Des Moines, John met with JFON attorney Brynne Howard, and a one-time clinic in Postville was arranged.   John estimates that the low-income clients received more than $15,000 worth of free legal services that day from JFON.
 
John then became part of the group of dedicated individuals from a range of faith communities to organize and provide volunteers for JFON so a legal clinic in Decorah (about 20 miles north of Postville) could become a regular event.  Thank you, First United Methodist Church of Decorah, and all of the volunteers that have made the Decorah clinic a reality!
Unaccompanied Minor Crisis Update
National Justice For Our Neighbors Responds
 
National Justice For Our Neighbors is responding to the mass migration of unaccompanied children to the U.S. by sending 11 JFON attorneys to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, over the next few weeks.  These attorneys will conduct intakes and screenings of the more than 1,200 children housed there, in partnership with the local organization RAICES
 
After the children leave the Air Force base, the majority will be sent to live with family in the U.S. as they await an immigration court hearing.  These children desperately need an immigration attorney to help them apply for benefits for which they are eligible.  NJFON is working to secure funding which will allow NJFON to represent more of these children and enable them to remain safely in the United States.
 
Over the past month, the NJFON office has been fielding calls and emails daily from people wanting to know how they can directly assist these children or where they can send needed items. One organization that is still accepting volunteers and certain items for donation is the  Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley.

Thank you for your prayers and concern for the children and families that have made such a courageous and dangerous journey in a quest for safety. 
 
 
 
Advocacy Actions
 
Rob Rutland-Brown, Executive Director, National Justice For Our Neighbors, being led to police van.

Washington, D.C.: Last week, 112 people made the the bold decision to be a participant in civil disobedience in front of the White House to stop deportations for all people – no matter how young or old – and to push for expansion of deferred action for undocumented people so they can have an affirmative relief process that will keep families together.  44 United Methodists were part of the group that was arrested, including Rev. Alka Lyall and Rev. Debra Tinsley-Taylor from Northern Illinois-JFON.  Over 250 newspapers nationwide carried stories about the protest and it made TV news on over 40 stations.  For more information, please read the UMNS article.

NJFON Program Manager Melissa Bowe assists D.C. participants

Vassar, Michigan:  JFON-Southeastern Michigan staff and volunteers participated in an interfaith peace vigil to support compassion towards children, specifically children from Central America, who may be living in the Vassar area.  Interim Executive Director Tori Booker and Site Attorney Melanie Goldberg participated with JFON volunteers Alix Smith, and Morris Taber. The Rev. Paul Perez, Detroit Conference Director for Mission and Justice Engagement and previous JFON Director, participated as well. The Michigan Radio has more details. here.

San Francisco, California: Belinda Robinson, Volunteer Coordinator with JFON-Bay Area Immigration Task Force, and Staff Attorney Sharron Williams, joined the LGBT Pride Parade to support LGBT immigrants, both documented and undocumented.  

Belinda with David Chui, San Francisco Board of Supervisors

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