Folks gathered to support New England Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON’s) efforts to provide legal services to immigrants and refugees at not one but two events this year.
NE JFON hosted dinner-auction fundraisers on Nov. 3 at St. John’s Korean UMC in Lexington, which has been the site of the event for the past three years, and for the first time at Trinity UMC in Springfield on Nov. 10, 2018.
NE JFON operates two clinics in Massachusetts: in Springfield and in Woburn.
At the gatherings, NE JFON Board Chair Rev. Gary Richards announced that plans are in the works for a third clinic in the Lawrence/Lowell area that will focus on serving unaccompanied minors.
Minors entering the U.S. alone are often fleeing gang violence, violence within their families, and extreme poverty.
Calling the current situation regarding immigrants in the U.S. “a humanitarian crisis,” Rev. Richards thanked attendees, saying:
“You have been so faithful over the years – filling the house, bringing joy, bringing resources for individuals who feel so forgotten, so lost, so under an incredible cloud of fear.”
Rev. Richards also thanked Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, who was at the Council of Bishops meeting and unable to attend this year’s events, for his support.
“We are so blessed to have our bishop be so committed to JFON,” he said, noting that many JFONs “receive little if not zero support from their annual conferences.”
“When you’re wondering about paying mission shares – there are a lot of reasons to pay them, local churches – but JFON is one of the reasons,” Rev. Richards said. “We’re one of the largest recipients.”
And the need is great, said attorney Ethan Horowitz, managing director of the Northeast Justice Center, which works with the Woburn clinic.
“These are still very, very dark and terrible times for our immigrant neighbors,” Horowitz said. “Roadblocks are being put in the way of immigrants making their homes here. People who in the past haven’t had problems – and shouldn’t have problems – their lives are being made more difficult.”
Listen to Horowitz tell the story of one man who, after years in the U.S., was suddenly arrested by ICE and jailed:
Horowitz also cited the expansion of “public charge” as grounds for ineligibility for permanent status – making it harder for immigrants who are here lawfully to accept public benefits (or become a “public charge” on the economy) without forfeiting the opportunity to get a green card or adjusting their status, Horowitz said.
“[This forces] immigrant families to choose between terrible poverty and a chance to stay here lawfully,” he said.
Even when JFON cannot help, Horowitz said, there is value in immigrants being able to speak with an attorney who can tell them the truth about their status.
“In this time of chaos and fear,” he said, “there are a lot of predators out there who are more than happy to help immigrants part with their money for what really amounts to bogus advice.”
Special guest at the Springfield event was the executive director of the national JFON
, Rob Rutland-Brown. He offered some information about the efforts of this United Methodist ministry nationwide.
There are some 50 United Methodist church-based clinics in 14 states. They are part of 19 independent JFON sites, of which New England JFON is one. JFON has 100 staffers nationwide, and during the last five years has provided services to 15,000 low-income immigrants and refugees from 150 countries.
In the first six months of 2018, nationally, Rutland-Brown said, JFON took on 9,000 cases on behalf of 2,300 immigrants.
“We’ve been busy. The work is growing, and new sites are emerging and being planned, which is exciting,” Rutland-Brown said.
“That being said, we need to acknowledge that this work is getting harder,” he said. “We have a lot of things going on at the policy level that are making the work of immigration attorneys more difficult than ever.”
Among those are the narrowing of the definition of asylum, which has made it more difficult for those from Central America seeking asylum from domestic violence, and an end to first-time DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) applications; while those in the program can still renew, new applications are not being accepted.
Last year, the U.S. accepted fewer refugees than in any single year in the last 40 years, Rutland-Brown said. “This at a time when the world’s seeing more people fleeing their home countries than ever before.”
Along with the policy changes, attitudes have changed, Rutland-Brown said.
For many Americans, he said, the story of immigrants is a narrative in which immigrants are the source of all [Americans’] problems, and one in which immigrants are vilified, scapegoated.
“They’re told by many of us that they don’t belong,” he said.
One of the blessings of his work with JFON, Rutland-Brown said, is “I get to see this is not the only narrative being written about immigrants. And thanks to you all, it will not be the longest-lasting or the loudest narrative.”
“You and countless other people of faith around the country are promoting a much different narrative about how our nation should treat immigrants: with dignity not distrust, not as people to be feared, but to be friended,” he said. “You’re part of a growing movement that knows that now is the time to be a source of hope for our immigrant neighbors.”
Listen to Rutland-Brown tell the story of Ned and Katie, who reached out to support JFON:
How to help
The final figures are being tallied, but at first count, the two events raised at least $15,000 to support the work of JFON.
In June, the 2018 New England Annual Conference supported a resolution to designate a 2019 special offering for JFON with a goal of $30,000. At the session, Rev. Richards announced that the JFON board would work to match that $30,000.
To help churches work on meeting the offering goal, the Rev. Karen Munson, Mid-Maine District Superintendent, came up with the idea of collecting nickels in 2-liter plastic soda bottles. JFON distributed labels for the bottles, which hold about $150 when filled.
To learn more about supporting NE JFON, visit the website: http://www.newenglandjfon.org/
Hear Woburn Clinic Coordinator Melissa McNamee tell the story of an immigrant hoping to be reunited with his son: