JFON Helps Haitians in US Find Balance
**By Linda Unger
February 11, 2010—Marie* is listening to immigration attorney T.J. Mills explain the slim options for bringing her brother and infant niece from Haiti to New York City, where Marie lives. The child’s mother died in the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, and Marie’s brother Bernard*, like so many of the survivors, has turned for help to his only remaining support system, his relatives in the United States.
For tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants in the US, trying to maintain some semblance of balance among home, job and extended family is an ordinarily demanding task. The certainty of their own permanence in this country is often tenuous. And since the disaster in their homeland, they are further burdened by fear for their loved ones and the urgency of bringing them to safety.
“We’re talking about a community that already is stressed,” says Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) Director Panravee Vongjaroenrat about the Haitian immigrant community in the US. “On top of that, now they have lost family in Haiti or have surviving relatives who want to join them here.”
JFON is a ministry of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and offers free, professional legal services to immigrants in monthly clinics. It represents the response of the United Methodist Church and its local congregations to the needs of immigrants seeking to reunify their families, secure immigration status, and enjoy the right to work.
Since the emergency in Haiti, questions, like those of Marie, frequently arise in the clinics about how members of the Haitian community in the US can bring family members to them. The options are few.
“Nothing has really changed regarding the legal processes for bringing family members of immigrants to the United States,” says Mills, who also is a JFON attorney, in New York. “The government is expediting some visas for immediate relatives that were in process before the earthquake. There are instances of humanitarian parole, but these are rare and usually given to people in urgent need of medical care.”
Through its clinics across the country, JFON is helping Haitian immigrants to register for the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) the US government has offered them. Availing themselves of this status will allow these immigrants to live and work in the United States for 18 months, which will bring a measure of stability to their lives and support to their family members still in Haiti. JFON has stepped up the organization of immigration clinics specifically to deal with Haitian TPS, as the application deadline of July 20, 2010, is fast approaching. Check the JFON website for more information about the clinics and about how you can volunteer in support of this important ministry.
UMCOR’s Justice for Our Neighbors ministry partners with annual conferences and local churches to help sojourners navigate the complex immigration system in the United States. The program is based in the Methodist tradition of the Five Points Mission that served immigrants in New York City in the 1850s. Your gift to UMCOR Advance # 901285 continues that tradition of hospitality to the stranger.
* Not the actual name
**Linda Unger is staff writer for UMCOR