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News: New Immigration Clinic Welcomes First Clients04-06-2011
By Anne Marie Gerhardt
After three years of careful planning and coordinating volunteers, the Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) clinic opened its doors Saturday, April 2 to immigrants seeking legal guidance. The clinic, which provides free, high-quality attorney services, will operate the first Saturday of each month at Fourth Street United Methodist Church in Aurora. Clients are seen by appointment only.
Volunteer clinic coordinator, Roger Curless, member of Wesley UMC in Aurora, said the clinic is a real justice ministry. “We are responding to the biblical mandate of radical hospitality to our neighbors,” said Curless. “And the neighbors who we’re helping here are some of the least, some of the most marginalized people in our communities.”
The United Methodist Committee on Relief started JFON in 1999 in response to the Immigration Reform Act of 1996. “When our laws changed, it made it really hard for immigrants to figure out what their status is, how to change their status and how to be in the United States legally and correctly,” said Alice Mar, National JFON Program Manager. “Some people can be waiting 18, 20, 25 years before they get a green card.”
Curless said the goal of the clinic’s services is to help immigrants navigate the often times confusing legal system. “For example, sometimes we have cases where the person got a letter to appear in court, but they didn’t know it was for their final hearing. They didn’t go to the hearing and then there’s an order to deport them,” said Curless.
Volunteer Nadine Chambers of Bethany of Fox Valley UMC, was born in Belize and has lived in the United States for 25 years. She completed her citizenship last year and just received her passport. She wanted to volunteer for JFON to reach out to other immigrants in need. “I know what the clients are going through,” said Chambers. “I want to do all I can to help them.”
JFON attorney, Danny Upton said the clinic is there to help those who can’t afford legal help and those with complicated cases. “We do all sorts of things from obtaining employment authorization to obtaining lawful permanent residence status for those who are eligible, as well as applying for U.S citizenship and petitioning for family members who may be divided by international borders,” said Upton. “But the bulk of what we do is obtaining relief for vulnerable immigrants such as women and children who are victims of domestic abuse and refugees and asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution from their homeland.”
More than 20 JFON clinics are located across the country, yet this is the first and only one in Illinois. It is directly sponsored by the Northern Illinois Conference and receives assistance from many other not-for-profits across Northern Illinois. That support has included grants from United Methodist agencies and foundations, including the General Commission on Religion and Race, the General Board of Church and Society, and the United Methodist Foundation in Northern Illinois. JFON organizers and volunteers believe this clinic will meet a great need not only in Aurora but also the surrounding communities throughout the Northern Illinois Conference.
“There’s a need everywhere. Especially because immigrants are so vulnerable. They live in such fear and yet have so much hope. They are prey to people who are just really looking to take advantage of them,” said Mar.
For more information, contact the Acting Regional Director, Michael Mann at email@example.com or 847.931.0710, ext. 20. For clinic appointments call 630-301-6906. If you would like to give to this ministry, donate to UMCOR’s refugee and immigration ministries through Northern Illinois Conference Advance # 50000140, Justice for our Neighbors (JFON). Note that the One Great Hour of Sharing offering supports UMCOR, including support for the national organizing staff of JFON.