From the Worldwide Faith News archives

United Methodist network of clinics helps immigrants

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Thu, 20 Jun 2002 14:16:31 -0500

June 20, 2002        News media contact: Linda Bloom7(212) 870-38037New York

By United Methodist News Service

At a time when immigrants and refugees face increasing restrictions by the
U.S. government, United Methodists are expanding a national network of
immigration clinics to provide assistance.

Justice For Our Neighbors, a program started in 1999 by the United Methodist
Committee on Relief and the Just Neighbors Ministry in Virginia, got a
financial boost this spring when UMCOR's board of directors approved funding
of $600,000 over a three-year period. The money came from the agency's "Love
in the Midst of Tragedy Fund," a response to needs created by the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks.

Lilia Fernandez, the UMCOR staff member who has shepherded the program and
has been serving as its consultant since retiring, said the church can
demonstrate its love for God by serving the most vulnerable, such as
immigrants and refugees. "We are experiencing such a lack of shalom among
the peoples of the world that only God can heal the brokenness," she said.

Many who come to the immigration clinics experience a sense of safety and
sympathy that may be lacking in the outside community, particularly for
those fearful of law enforcement agencies. "They not only need immigration
counseling, but need to be with people who they know care for them as
children of God," Fernandez explained.

The network of clinics is staffed by a combination of legal advisers,
immigration specialists and local volunteers. "It's a unique project in
terms of cooperation because it crosses jurisdictional and conference
lines," said Alison Brown, a church and community worker and regional
attorney serving clinics in the Des Moines and Sioux City, Iowa, and Omaha,
Neb., areas.

The number of clients at the clinics Brown serves dropped temporarily after
Sept. 11, when immigrants did not want to advertise themselves as such.
"There's always a fear level, but it's definitely heightened," she added.

In a report to the UMCOR board of directors, Jacqueline Bradley Chacon, the
program's supervising attorney in Washington, outlined some of the effects
that response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has had on the rights and
status of immigrants and refugees. For example, she said, the targeting of
Middle Eastern men has made racial profiling a part of the national security
policy applied to all non-citizens in the United States.

Changes in federal policy mean that the Immigration and Naturalization
Service can detain any immigrant without a warrant or charges for up to 48
hours. Detention of asylum-seekers is expected to increase, along with the
use of military tribunals and secret evidence, and eavesdropping is legally
possible in some cases when immigrants consult with their attorneys.

"Immigrants are now vulnerable to investigation and deportation for even the
most minor immigration violations, such as failing to file a change of
address form within 10 days," Chacon wrote. "INS can use such a minor
violation to initiate deportation proceedings as it is a reportable

That is why the church's assistance through the Justice For Our Neighbors
clinics is more important than ever, Chacon told United Methodist News
Service. "Our program, in general, before and after Sept. 11 is a response
to Sept. 11."

In New York, for example, the program worked through the city's Family
Assistance Center to help immigrants, both documented and undocumented, who
were victims of the attacks. It assisted those who had lost family members,
lost jobs, sought public benefits or who needed immigration counseling.

Because of the restrictions imposed after Sept. 11, immigrants feel a sense
of urgency about improving their legal status, according to Chacon, who
predicted "a resurgence in citizenship applications."

The core of Justice For Our Neighbors is its congregation-based volunteer
service, according to the Rev. Nancy Lanman, manager for ministry
development in the Washington office. Beyond the initial goal of providing
trustworthy, accountable legal services, Justice For Our Neighbors focuses
on education and advocacy, and reflects the theological underpinning of its
positions on immigration issues.

At each clinic, Lanman noted, the purpose is not just providing a service
but building a sense of human community. 

Besides Iowa and Nebraska, clinics can be found in Decatur, Ala.; Laurel,
Miss.; Brooklyn, Chinatown, and Flushing, N.Y.; Memphis, Tenn.; Dallas and
Fort Worth, Texas; Roanoke, Va.;
Camden, Asbury Park, Toms River and Keyport, N.J.; and Baltimore.

More information about the Justice For Our Neighbors and volunteer
opportunities is available by calling Lanman at (202) 548-4867.  The program
also receives financial support as an Advance Special, No. 901285-1.
Donations may be dropped into church collection plates or mailed to the
United Methodist Committee on Relief, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York,
NY 10115. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583. 
# # #

United Methodist News Service
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