Strengthening ties that bind

United Methodist Women (UMW) recently awarded a grant of $50,000 to National Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON).

Sun-ok Lee

Sung-ok Lee, United Methodist Women assistant general secretary of Christian Social Action, says the UMW has been working on immigrant rights for the past eight years.

“We have been working on immigrant rights for the past eight years, because we believe that all persons belong in God’s vision of a beloved community,” said Sung-ok Lee, UMW assistant general secretary of 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 JFON sites: Northern Illinois, Iowa, West Michigan, and Southeastern Michigan.

Each of these locations has an urgent need for high-quality, affordable immigration services, yet lacks resources to adequately assist the many vulnerable immigrants who need their help.

Each location has UMW volunteers eager to make a real, lasting difference in the lives of the low-income immigrants who live within their communities.

UMW volunteer impact

“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,” said Tori Booker, site director for JFON Southeast Michigan. “We are excited to collaborate with such dynamic and caring women.”

We are excited to collaborate with such dynamic and caring women.

For JFON West Michigan, these much-needed funds will be put to use developing its 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 it was able to hire a new attorney, April Palma, who will dedicate her time to helping unaccompanied minors who have fled the violence of their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Site attorney Ann Naffier estimates Iowa JFON will be able to assist an additional 40-50 of these unaccompanied minors who have endured such hardship and peril to make their way to Iowa.

Cousins from El Salvador

Two cousins from El Salvador are among Iowa JFON’s newest cases. They were raised by their grandmother, and then, as so often happens when these boys entered 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. The cousins fled to the United States via Mexico, finding shelter with a loving family in Northern Iowa.

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

“[The cousins] 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 Naffier.

List of new clients

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

Among them is a human-rights lawyer/activist from Colombia who seeks asylum in the United States. Several of her colleagues were murdered, and she herself was severely persecuted and threatened.

An Iraqi victim of domestic abuse is eligible for relief under the Violence Against Women Act. A young woman from Senegal, a victim of a serious crime in Chicago, 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,” 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.

Editor's note: Laura Sonnenmark, is Communication and Office Manager for National Justice for Our Neighbors. Its office in Springfield, Va., supports 16 Justice for Our Neighbor sites throughout the country. These sites operate in 14 states and Washington, D.C., and include approximately 40 clinics that operate out of United Methodist churches. Justice for Our Neighbors grew out of the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s long commitment to refugees and immigrants.

United Methodist Women is to be a community of women whose purpose is to know God and to experience freedom as whole persons through Jesus Christ; to develop a creative, supportive fellowship; and to expand concepts of mission through participation in the global ministries of the denomination.

This article is adapted from “Strengthening the ties that bind us: United Methodist Women and Justice For Our Neighbors — a beautiful and productive partnership.”

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