Advocacy for our neighbors

By Bella DiFilippo*

In September 2017, the Trump administration announced it would end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). In response, The United Methodist Church is focusing on advocacy and increasing support for National Justice for Our Neighbors (NJFON).

The JFON network grew out of the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s (UMCOR’s) long commitment to refugees and immigrants. Since UMCOR’s founding in 1940, refugee ministry has been at the heart of its work, guided by Christian values of hospitality to the stranger.

“The JFON network continues to grow,” said attorney C. Todd Willis, a NJFON board member from Orlando, Fla. “The silver lining in the disheartening policies we’ve seen as of late is that there are so many United Methodists and others who care about helping immigrants.” Volunteers have been eager to assist JFON sites in exploring legal options for those with DACA now that the window for renewals has closed.

What is DACA?

An executive order passed in 2012, DACA was designed for undocumented children and young adults, who were brought to the United States with their parents. Under DACA, recipients (also known as DREAMers in relation to the DREAM Act) can attend college, join the military or buy a house. They could also apply for temporary renewable work permits, Social Security numbers, and are protected from deportation.

About 800,000 individuals are DACA recipients nationwide, Willis said. NJFON attorneys work alongside DACA recipients and other immigrants who come to the United States seeking a better life. Willis noted that JFON sites around the country have assisted more than 2,000 DACA recipients through the documentation process.

The end of DACA means hundreds of thousands of young adults will be at risk of deportation, many of whom are now part of the U.S. workforce. Many state economies would be negatively impacted as a result. As those with DACA begin to lose their status and their ability to work, NJFON and many other faith groups have been advocating for a clean DREAM Act, with no strings attached, to allow these young adults to become U.S. citizens.

Goals and challenges

With so many in need of legal services, assistance through immigration legal services is in high demand, but there are simply not enough immigration attorneys offering free or low-cost legal services. NJFON hopes to bridge this gap through increasing awareness of its mission and expanding its network.

Last year, NJFON set an ambitious goal to establish 20 sites (independently run local organizations) by 2020. Today, there are 17 sites nationwide, with some new sites close to joining. “I think we’ll easily reach our goal sooner than we anticipated,” said Willis.

“If we can increase our funding,” he continued, “we can hire more immigration attorneys.” In doing so, the JFON network can serve more families and individuals in need.

NJFON hopes to meet this challenge by spreading its message through United Methodist churches and annual (regional) conferences.

Become an advocate

“Being Methodist is a part of me,” said Willis. “When I became an attorney, I wanted to be more active in my faith. Even though I’m not an immigration attorney, I found out about JFON and started volunteering with them. Eventually, I joined the board of directors. It’s truly an incredible ministry of The United Methodist Church.”

Asked why United Methodists should be involved in ministries like NJFON, Willis replied, “I always think about the John Wesley quote about doing all the good you can for as long as you can. The essence of this quote is to help people in need and to welcome the stranger. I think advocacy for immigrants is a great way for us to live out our faith in this way.”

NJFON’s mission is to give neighbors access to the U.S. immigration legal system, especially at a time when the law may not be favorable toward immigrants. You can be a part of this opportunity to bring hope to others. Look for advocacy opportunities here. Support NJFON through financial support – donate to Advance #901285.

*Bella DiFilippo is communication specialist from Mission Engagement for Global Ministries