United Methodist Committee on Relief

South Florida

The Heart of the Misery

By Janet Horman*

South Florida Justice for our Neighbors is an immigration legal aid ministry located just south of Miami in Homestead, Florida. This largely agricultural area is home to Mexican, Haitian, Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Honduran, Cuban, and Nicaraguan immigrant families. Many work in hotels, construction, and farming. Some families arrived decades ago and settled after working for years as migrant workers, moving from location to location with the harvest. Working in the sweltering Floridian heat, they bring winter strawberries, citrus, green beans, Easter orchids, and Christmas poinsettias to the rest of the country.

I often call this the heart of the misery. One of the most painful things we witness is fear in the eyes of children born in the United States who are old enough to understand that their mom and dad are undocumented immigrants. They have been raised and educated in the United States and now fear that their parents could be detained or deported at any time of day or night. You might assume that these parents, like others who come lawfully on a valid visa, could simply “wait their turn in line.” It was not until I was in law school that I began to realize, waiting in line is not a realistic option for many who work in our fields.

SF JFON-staff-with-plate-1.jpg                                                        Team members of JFON South Florida: Emily Kvalheim, Community Relations Coordinator (Global Mission Fellow US-2); Roland Robinson, Attorney; the Rev. Janet Horman, Attorney and Director, UMC Church and Community Worker; Caitlin Kastner, Clinic and Intake Coordinator (Global Mission Fellow US-2). PHOTO: JFON SOUTH FLORIDA

A recent client, a grandmother in her 70s who has worked for 12 years at a fast food restaurant, finally obtained her US citizenship. She came to us for help to file a relative petition to bring her daughter in Mexico to the US. If she pays immigration the $535 fee to fill out the form, it will likely be approved within five to seven months. But the current wait time for her married daughter to apply for a visa to move to the US is 22 years.

“Veintidós años?!” She exclaimed.

Sì, 22 years.

In 22 years the mother would be in her mid-90s. If she does not live to see her daughter come, her daughter will have to embark on a separate and difficult process involving a “substitute” petitioner.

Unaccompanied teenagers and children are often put in immigration detention centers at the border before being released, pending immigration court proceedings. Fleeing from poverty, violence, sexual, and other abuse, they are often in need of medical care and counseling once they arrive. A recent preteen client arrived after being repeatedly raped as a young child by an older male relative. We celebrate that she was recently recommended for approval for asylum.

We are thankful that our United Methodist Church community can be a lifesaving presence for those who seek refuge in this country and contribute so much that we take for granted, from harvesting produce to sharing the rich cultural traditions of their home countries.

*Janet Horman is a Church and Community Worker (Advance #3022259) and the executive director of the South Florida Justice For Our Neighbors in Miami.


Extending Service to Immigrant Communities

By Dawn Bashara*

Omaha, Nebraska, is a dynamic, influential city in the heart of the United States, with several outstanding attractions: the world-class Henry Doorley Zoo, Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway headquarters, and Justice For Our Neighbors-Nebraska (JFON-NE), to name a few.

JFON-NE’s mission is to welcome immigrants into our community by providing free, high-quality immigration legal services, education, and advocacy. As the largest site in the JFON network, the JFON-NE legal team worked on more than 2,700 cases in 2016 for clients from 47 countries, with an average success rate of 98 percent. Clients received free professional services from 10 full-time, licensed attorneys; six legal staff; two administrative assistants; and three management staff members—all supported by 125 volunteers.

For several years, JFON-NE clients confided that they have additional legal needs beyond immigration legal services, yet they have nowhere to turn for help if they cannot afford a private attorney. Looking forward from our strategic plan, staff members crafted a detailed business plan with forecasts of needs for staff, operations, budget, and funding for three years that was approved by the JFON-NE Board of Directors in March 2016.

The plan includes forming partnerships with immigrant-serving organizations which have clients with legal needs that intersect with immigration law. The three-year partnerships are being launched as pilot programs to determine which are most viable for client impact and organizational sustainability.

These pilots bring additional expertise in the areas of fair working conditions, health care, custody, guardianship, and divorce cases—matters of high importance for employees, children, families, and domestic violence survivors. This holistic approach positions JFON-NE to address the interwoven legal issues that prevent immigrants from fully participating in their communities.

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