Response: October 2015 Issue

Strengthening the Ties That Bind Us

United Methodist Women and Justice for Our Neighbors Form a Beautiful and Productive Partnership.

Strengthening the Ties That Bind Us
United Methodist Women members along with National Justice for Our Neighbors rally to end family detention in Dilley, Texas.

We are profoundly grateful to acknowledge the generosity of the United Methodist Women, who recently awarded a substantial grant of $50,000 to National Justice for Our Neighbors.

"We have been working on immigrant rights for the past eight years, because we believe that all persons belong in God's JFON sites vision of a beloved community," said Sung-ok Lee, United Methodist Women's assistant general secretary for Christian social action. "We affirm the human rights of every person regardless of status and affirm that these rights do not stop at borders."

The grant money was divided among four of our JFON sites — Northern Illinois, Iowa, West Michigan and Southeastern Michigan.

All of these locations have an urgent need for high-quality, affordable immigration services, yet each lacks the resources to adequately assist the many vulnerable immigrants who so desperately need their help. All of these locations have United Methodist Women volunteers who are eager to become more involved and to make a real and lasting difference in the lives of the low-income immigrants who live within their communities.

"As a member of my own United Methodist Women in Ann Arbor, I know the power and impact United Methodist Women volunteers can have to bring awareness and action around social justice issues," said Tori Booker, site director for JFON Southeast Michigan. "We are excited to collaborate with such dynamic and caring women."

For JFON West Michigan, these much-needed funds will be put to good use developing their new site in Traverse City, a resort and farming community where immigrant workers play an integral role in the local economy.

For Iowa JFON, the windfall meant, first and foremost, that they were able to hire a new attorney, April Palma. Ms. Palma will dedicate her time exclusively to helping the unaccompanied minors who have fled the violence of their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Site attorney Ann Naffier estimates that they will be able to assist an additional 40-50 of these unaccompanied minors who have endured much hardship and peril to make their way to Iowa.

José and Alejandro (not their real names) are two of Iowa JFON's newest cases. Cousins from El Salvador, they were raised by their grandmother, and then, as so often happens when these boys enter their teen years, they became targets for criminal gangs. Gang members beat the boys and threatened to kill their grandmother if they didn't join them. José and Alejandro fled to the United States, via Mexico, finding shelter with a loving family in Northern Iowa.

With Iowa JFON's legal assistance, they have a fighting chance of being able to overcome deportation and to legalize their status in the United States.

"José and Alejandro, and many other children in Iowa, will be allowed to grow up in peace and safety because of the generosity of the United Methodist Women," said Ms. Naffier.

When asked how JFON Northern Illinois will be using their grant funds, site attorney Jenny Ansay happily begins reciting a list of new clients.

Among them is Luz Maria, a human rights lawyer/activist from Colombia who seeks asylum in the United States. Several of Ms. Maria's colleagues were murdered, and she herself was severely persecuted and threatened. Yalda, an Iraqi victim of domestic abuse, is eligible for relief under the Violence Against Women Act. Aminata is a young woman from Senegal, a victim of a serious crime in Chicago, who is on her way to a U-Visa and, she hopes, eventual U.S. citizenship.

"These are just three of the hundreds of women and children whose lives we will be able to change," Ms. Ansay said. "We want to thank the United Methodist Women for blessing us with this award. We will make you proud."

That's a promise from all of us.

Laura Sonnenmark is communications and office manager for National Justice for Our Neighbors in Springfield, Virginia. This article first appeared on NJFON's website at Reprinted with permission.

Posted or updated: 9/30/2015 11:00:00 PM