Strengthening the Ties that Bind us: United Methodist Women and Justice For Our Neighbors—a beautiful and productive partnership

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. 

Sung-ok lee“We have been working on immigrant rights for the past 8 years, because we believe that all person belong in God’s vision of a beloved community,” explains Sung-ok Lee, Assistant General Secretary, Christian Social Action, of the UMW. “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 UMW 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 UMW in Ann Arbor, I know the power and impact UMW volunteers can have to bring awareness and action around social justice issues,” says 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. April 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 UAMs who have endured such hardship and peril to make their way to Iowa.

José and Alejandro* are two of IA 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.

Central American teenagers often face a wrenching choice: Join the gang or die. Notorious gang members imprisoned in El Salvador; www.cpj.org
Central American teenagers often face a wrenching choice: Join the gang or die.
Notorious gang members imprisoned in El Salvador; www.cpj.org

With IA 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,” says Ann.   

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 Luz 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 US citizenship. 

 

Senegalese women; www.pbs.org

“These are just three of the hundreds of women and children whose lives we will be able to change,” Jenny says. “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.  

 

*All client names have been changed to protect their privacy and security.