UMCOR

United Methodist Committee on Relief

Southeastern Michigan

Bringing Lina Home

By JFON Southeastern Michigan*

As an interpreter for the US forces in Afghanistan, Nazim took precautions to shield his wife and two young children from the violence he encountered almost daily from the Taliban. He knew he had an important job to do and he wanted to help his country.

The threats and attacks increased, however, and Nazim’s home and family became targets too. Fearing for their lives, Nazim applied for the Special Immigrant Visa available to Afghans and Iraqis who provide crucial aid to the US Armed Forces.

These visas take several months to process; in the interim Nazim’s wife became pregnant. Soon the family welcomed a baby daughter and named her Lina. But because she hadn’t been born yet, her name was not on their original visa documents. They received permission to emigrate to the United States just as the Taliban made the family’s continued existence in Afghanistan untenable. It was a matter of life or death—but they could not take their infant daughter with them. In the end, they had to leave Lina behind in the care of her uncle and grandmother, vowing to return for her as soon as possible.

Once in the United States, the family immediately began the process of getting a visa for Lina to come to southern Michigan. Unfortunately, the accredited representative (not an attorney) who filed their forms created unnecessary red tape and delays. Weeks turned into months, and months became a year. Meanwhile, Lina’s uncle and grandmother were now in the Taliban’s sights as Nazim’s closest relatives. They were forced to move for their own—and Lina’s—safety.

SE Mich Virginia and Lina.jpg                                                                                 The First United Methodist Church of Blissfield, Michigan, became involved in the case and directed the family to JFON Southeastern Michigan. Their file landed on the desk of volunteer immigration attorney, Virginia Norkevicius.

With 20 years of experience in immigration law and as a former JFON employee, Norkevicius dedicates one day a week to JFON clients. She was surprised by the tangle of Lina’s case and the precious time that had been wasted. She contacted the embassy in Kabul and began the process again.

Meanwhile, the church started a GoFundMe campaign to send Lina’s mom back to Afghanistan to visit her daughter. Lina had her interview at the US Embassy in Kabul in June 2016. She was approved several months later.

“I cried when we got the word,” admits Norkevicius. “To bring families together is a wonderful thing.” Lina arrived in Michigan on November 7, 2016, after being separated from her parents and siblings for more than two years.

Nazim, profoundly moved by the care and expertise his JFON attorneys gave to Lina’s case, came by a JFON clinic to express his gratitude to the entire JFON staff. “Thank you,” he said, his eyes brimming with unshed tears. “Thank you for bringing Lina home.”

*Begun in 2010, Justice For Our Neighbors in Southeastern Michigan (JFON-SEMI) is a small, grassroots, volunteer driven organization that provides high quality, free legal services to immigrants and refugees

Tennessee

Inherit the Kingdom

By Wade Munday*

We take time to celebrate the victories as we work on behalf of immigrants and refugees—like when one of the attorneys at Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors presents a Green Card to someone who has endured extraordinary hardship and displayed equally extraordinary courage.

We must also acknowledge the losses—a hostile political climate, threatening emails, limited funding. However, we are reassured that our actions are just and our work is worthwhile because of this simple acknowledgement from Jesus:

“Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25: 34-36, CEB)

TN_DUB2058.jpg                                                                             Rocío received her Green Card in 2015 with the help of JFON Tennessee after helping law enforcement successfully prosecute criminals who terrorized undocumented families in her neighborhood. PHOTO: MIKE DUBOSE

Immigrants and refugees are the most vulnerable people in the world. They have no political power and therefore few defenders within our government. Immigrants’ and refugees’ lack of political agency results in lives of struggle—starvation, exile, illness, and unjust detention. Our clients arrive at Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors in search of an advocate and defender, even when they’ve done nothing wrong.

In order to protect this most vulnerable group of people, those with political voice must speak up for the persecuted and threatened parts of humankind. Yet, our immigration laws are subject to the interest of voters who have never interacted with our immigration system and understandably never had much reason to learn about the process. We must treat every person with kindness and dignity, but we must also hold a preference for immigrants and refugees. They are the embodiment of Jesus in our midst; they are hungry and seeking nourishment. They are thirsty and seeking refreshment. They are strangers seeking hospitality. They are imprisoned and seeking freedom. They are Christ among us.

God promises that we will “inherit the Kingdom of God.” That doesn’t mean the struggle in the here and now will be easy. We will receive more hate mail. Our closest friends and family will be puzzled by what we do. With every refugee who is resettled safely in the United States, and with every immigrant who receives a Green Card after years of struggle, there is the realization that justice does eventually come. Our challenge is to increase access to this kind of justice. It is God’s justice according to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

*Wade Munday is the executive director of the Tennessee Justice For Our Neighbors in Nashville, Tennessee.

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