A Special Family Reunion
By Melissa Hinnen
November 25, 2008—"There is nothing more fulfilling than knowing you have been able to help bring a family together," says Justice For Our Neighbors (JFON) attorney TJ Mills who recently had the privilege of going to the airport with a client, Barnabe, where he joyfully greeted his family after eight years of separation.
Barnabe was a medical assistant in war-torn Kongolo, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Because the hospital where he worked treated patients regardless of whether they were civilian, rebel or government worker, he was accused of being a government collaborator. He was arrested, interrogated, detained and beaten. His parents, three brothers and two sisters were all killed because of their ethnicity. In 2000, he fled the DRC and in 2001 arrived in the US. He was separated from his wife and five children in the process.
After a number of appeals and with support from First United Methodist Church of Shelton, Conn., and friends in the community, Barnabe was granted political asylum in the US in 2005. He immediately petitioned to have his family join him. The church helped raise the money for airfare, stocked the refrigerator, donated clothes and furnished Barnabe's home for his wife and five children. A generous friend even donated a minivan.
Meanwhile, in Zambia, the US Consulate required DNA testing to prove that the family was all related. All of them passed and were told to arrive at the US Embassy with their airline tickets to receive their visas. When they arrived, they were surprised when the Vice Consul began questioning the authenticity of the marriage certificate and the adoption certificate for one of the children. The child in question was the biological son of Barnabe's brother who had been killed along with the child's mother in the civil war. Barnabe and his wife adopted their two-year-old nephew in 1998.
While they had the proper paperwork and authentic adoption and marriage certificates, the Vice Consul insisted neither was legitimate and refused to issue any visas to the family. He even threatened to charge Barnabe's wife with human trafficking and to send her children to the US without their mother.
JFON worked with a local attorney in the DRC to authenticate the adoption and marriage certificates. Mills submitted a 70-page rebuttal on behalf of his clients and the Department of Homeland Security reaffirmed the approvals and expedited the files back to the Vice Consul in Zambia. The Vice Consul apologized to the family and on November 6th, the family entered the US—reunited with an overjoyed husband and father after 8 years.
JFON, a ministry of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), offers free legal assistance to sojourners who are trying to navigate the complex immigration process as it affects their lives in the US. Based in the Methodist tradition of the Five Points Mission that served immigrants in New York City in the 1850's, JFON partners with annual conferences and local congregation to welcome the stranger. Your gift to UMCOR Advance #901285 will help immigrants reunite with their families.* Melissa Hinnen is the staff writer for UMCOR communications.