New England Justice for Our Neighbors
(NE JFON) is a division of a nationwide United Methodist ministry that offers legal aid to low income immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
As NE JFON celebrated the first anniversary of its clinic serving the Lawrence/Lowell area with a dinner and auction on Nov. 9, 2019, attendees heard why their support for this ministry is more vital than ever.
Northeast Justice Center attorneys provide legal services for NE JFON, and Ethan Horowitz, the center’s managing director, told attendees gathered at North Boston Korean UMC in Andover, MA:
“I have been doing this for about a decade and I can safely say this is one of the most trying times, at least since I’ve been practicing law, to help immigrants, and the reason for that is simple: The new administration in Washington is moving the goal posts. It’s harder for domestic violence survivors and unaccompanied children to get visas. The new administration is making it harder.”
In addition to the Lawrence/Lowell clinic, NE JFON operates legal clinics in Springfield and Woburn, MA. Simple Church Worcester, a dinner church led by Rev. LyAnna Johnson, will be the coordinating body for the newest NE JFON clinic, set to open Nov. 18, 2019 at Epworth UMC in Worcester.
“We’re really just hear to say thank you,” Horowitz said.
The funding provided by generous United Methodists helps the unaccompanied children who need support when they reach the U.S. as well as adults whose immigration status is dependent on an abusive spouse.
The dinner was an opportunity to hear from or about some of these folks who have been helped by JFON.
Ana Otero, staff attorney with the Northeast Justice Center, shared the story of a woman who married a U.S. citizen in good faith only to find herself in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship. She suffered deep depression and anxiety.
When she came to the clinic, this woman was desperate, Otero said.
With JFON’s help, Otero said, the woman was able to get residency status. She and her daughter were able to leave her husband and move into a shelter for abused women. She is now working and receiving counseling and hopes to have a place of her own soon.
She asked Otero to share her story and the following message:
“I hope that with my story help like this should continue. I hope that God allows that you keep helping more people.”
Otero said a phrase she hears from clients all the time is “Que Dios te bendiga” or “May God bless you.”
“That’s not just directed at me,” Otero said, “but to all of you. We are a team. We couldn’t do this by ourselves. You support is very much appreciated and needed.”
Many clients being helped through the Lawrence/Lowell clinic are unaccompanied minors. Otero said oftentimes these kids are leaving abusive or absent parents or fleeing gang violence.
Young people are often coerced into joining the gangs with death threats to themselves or family members, Otero said.
“One kid told me: ‘I don’t want to be a criminal. I’m a Christian. That’s why I had no option but to leave.’”
The Rev. Gary Richards, president of the NE JFON Board of Directors, congratulated Lawrence/Lowell clinic on its first year, and announced that they made NE JFON history by organizing and opening a clinic in less than three months.
“That’s unprecedented,” he said.
Rev. Richards thanked attendees saying that the three fundraisers that took place over the last four weeks were attended by more than 300 people raising funds for immigration justice.
Thanks to those supporters, he said, NE JFON will release $120,000 to support client cases throughout Massachusetts.
“This is serious work that is transforming lives,” Rev. Richards said. “What is the mission of our church? To transform the world; this is what you’re doing with your brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Through an interpreter, two young women, sisters from Guatemala who arrived separately, shared a bit of what that transformation looks like:
“There were so many dangers [along the journey to the U.S.]; I was so afraid. I was thinking about asking to be sent back. But thanks to all those people who gave me words of support [I made] a decision to stay. … Now I can say I am happy because I am with my sister. God has opened many doors for me. Thanks to you, we are going to be able to fulfill our dreams and hopes.”