National Justice For Our Neighbors
September 2014
"Why I Do What I Do..."
Reflections from Meg Moran
New England-JFON Attorney
       
I began my legal career as a business lawyer, mostly in the area of corporate mergers and acquisitions.  I started thinking about practicing immigration law years ago when I became aware of specific examples in my community of the harsh, often inhuman effects of U.S. immigration laws and enforcement policies. My exposure came from local Catholic workers who visited our church and talked about the radical hospitality that the New Sanctuary Movement was offering to undocumented immigrants.  I also learned of particular cases of mistreatment and suffering from friends of mine who were part of the efforts of a local peace group and the Religious Society of Friends to provide similar hospitality and support to immigrants who had settled in our area or were temporary farm workers on local farms.

 
 Meg and JFON Volunteers
 
One case in particular that galvanized our local community involved a pizza deliveryman from Pakistan who was a legal resident living in a town close to our home at the time (in the Upper Hudson Valley of New York). During the awful weeks following the 9/11 attacks, this young man was a victim of the intense paranoia and fear of that time. He was questioned as a suspected terrorist when he was spotted taking photographs on a hill beside a reservoir that was a popular, picturesque spot with a good view of the Catskills. Though he was quickly cleared of suspicion of being a terrorist, he ended up being arrested, detained for three years, and then deported. 

His crime was an act of hospitality.  He helped two childhood friends, a married couple from Pakistan, lease an apartment. Because their visas had expired, he was charged with harboring aliens.  Friends of mine who knew him and were helping him asked if I would represent him.  I didn’t have any experience with immigration law then, and I wasn’t able to assist him. Unfortunately, he did not obtain good legal counsel at a critical point in the process. Despite the fact that many people in the community, including powerful elected officials such as then-Senator Clinton, rallied in support of him, he was eventually deported. Although the outcome was not the success many sought, he was grateful to have not been ignored and alone in his ordeal. Even years after he was returned to Pakistan, he spoke of having no bitterness toward America and of feeling good in his heart about people from the U.S., referring to the activists who’d supported him as “the real U.S.A.” And his friendships with those who’d stood with him throughout his detention and removal did not end when he left the U.S.  I was happy for him and appreciative of my friends and others who had created a community that was lasting and that transcended and withstood the disappointment of an unjust legal outcome. 
           
My opportunity to be part of a new way of offering hospitality and bearing witness arose when members of the HopeGateWay Methodist community in Portland organized a JFON clinic to welcome and support asylum seekers in Portland, Maine.  In my role as one of the attorneys representing JFON clients, I am having a lot of fun and am very grateful to be working within an amazing community of volunteers (who represent many countries of origin).  All our clients know that they are welcome, full members of the community. We all work side-by-side, everyone supporting one another, and the recently-arrived among us know that they are not going to be on their own or ignored as they settle in to the community and navigate their way through the U.S. immigration process.
 
Unaccompanied Minors and the Border
JFON Attorneys work with Migrant Children in San Antonio
 
National Justice For Our Neighbors continues to actively support these extremely vulnerable, yet brave, children and families fleeing violence in Central America.  Here are 4 highlights specific to our work towards making a better reality possible for migrant children. 
 
          
                                       Photo by UMNS.

1.
 NFJON has sent JFON network attorneys to San Antonio, Texas where they have worked directly with unaccompanied children.  Board member Kristin Fearnow reflects on her time.
 
  1. I recently had the opportunity to join other JFON attorneys in volunteering in San Antonio, Texas.  Julie Flanders, Austin-JFON attorney, has a close working relationship with RAICES, the non-profit tasked with providing educational and legal services to the children held in shelters in this area. Because of this, JFON attorneys are able to work directly with these children.
  2. I spent one afternoon attending a Know Your Rights Presentation and then screening children for relief.  I spent the next day sifting through hundreds of intakes of children to assess the strength of the case and make follow up calls for referrals. The woman sitting next to me, also a volunteer, spent the entire day trying to find pro bono legal service providers throughout the U.S. who were taking cases to add RAICES’s list for referrals. In the time I was there, she was only able to add one organization to their list. At that news everyone cheered.
  3. What has happened in the last few months has brought much needed attention to a struggle that has been happening for years, even if on a smaller scale.  The violence that plagues these Central American countries from which these children flee is real and scary. These are children. They need our help.  I am grateful for the opportunity to volunteer alongside JFON and RAICES staff.  The RAICES staff was so welcoming and appreciative; Julie’s dedication is amazing, as is the dedication of the other JFON attorneys who took time from their own busy caseloads to volunteer. But make no mistake; this is a drop in the bucket of what needs to be done. That is why organizations like NJFON are so important and the work our attorneys, staff and volunteers do is invaluable.  I am proud to be a member of the Board of Directors of this organization and I am extremely proud everyone in the JFON network. There has never been a more important time to support this effort.

    JFON Attorney Anna Waller (far right) assisted RAICES staff (shown here) in San Antonio to help provide intake, Know Your Rights, and placement assistance for unaccompanied migrant children.
     
2. NJFON Executive Director Rob Rutland-Brown spent several days on the border with 20 other UMC faith leaders on a fact-finding and strategizing meeting. His touching reflection “A Three-Year-Old Boy” is worth reading.  United Methodist News Service's in-depth article about this trip can be found here.

  Rob at a Catholic Church in McAllen, TX in front a tent used for Know Your Rights training.

Bishop Carcaño visits with a migrant child at a shelter near the border. Photo by UMNS.

3.
NJFON and Church World Service are co-hosting a community education and fundraising evening Sept. 9. This event will feature an interactive discussion with experts working directly with unaccompanied children.  Rob Rutland-Brown, Executive Director of NJFON, and Jen Smyers, Associate Director, Immigration and Refugee Policy at CWS, will talk about the current state of this crisis. Additionally, there is a presentation by one of our expert attorneys in Texas. Please help us get the word out by sharing this link with people you know in the D.C. area: brownpapertickets.com/event/820510.

4. NJFON joined voices with other national organizations to push back against the possibility that the White House could compromise protections for children in part to create political space for wider executive action on immigration. This effort was spearheaded by Church World Service. We sent the following one sentence letter to President Obama:

 
Dear President Obama,
While we celebrate the potential of executive action to alleviate the suffering caused by our nation’s broken immigration system – particularly in light of political inaction in Congress – it must not come at the cost of due process and access to humanitarian protection for children and families fleeing violence in Central America.


 
 
 
 
 

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