|Immigrant ministry celebrates 10 years in Texas|
Amy Spaur (left), Mary Beth Garcia and her baby Elizabeth join in the 10th anniversary celebration for the Justice for Our Neighbors immigration clinic in Fort Worth, Texas. UMNS photos courtesy of Justice for Our Neighbors.
A UMNS Report
By Humberto Casanova*
May 11, 2009
The Justice For Our Neighbors immigration clinic in Fort Worth, Texas,
is celebrating its 10th Anniversary.
They celebrated with a mariachi band and cake, commemorating the day 10 years ago when two Texas churches joined forces to start an immigration clinic.
It was the future, however, that was equally exciting to the more than 100 people who gathered April 26 to honor the Justice for Our Neighbors project, started by Polytechnic United Methodist Church and El Buen Samaritano United Methodist Church in Fort Worth.
“I would say I feel like it’s such an honor and a blessing to work in this ministry,” said Amy Spaur, church and community worker with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. “It’s one of the things I’m so proud of the church for being involved with. And, you know, I think celebrating 10 years this year is a great accomplishment, and I look forward to celebrating 15 years and 20 years and 25 years as a ministry.”
Justice for Our Neighbors launched immigration services in spring 1999 in United Methodist churches throughout the United States. Other clinics celebrating 10 years are in Omaha, Neb., New York City, Dallas and Des Moines and Sioux City in Iowa. The United Methodist Committee on Relief contributes financial support.
A life renewed
One anniversary celebrant with a special appreciation for the Fort Worth ministry was José Ontiveros, who emigrated from Sacatecas, Mexico, in 2000. Tragedy was not far behind.
One day after lunch, someone knocked on his door. His brother opened the door only to be shot dead by a drunk man who wanted to rob them, Ontiveros said. Ontiveros struggled with the man and finally subdued him. But in the process, he was wounded in his right arm, which had to be amputated.
Ontiveros said he fell into a profound depression until a friend told him about the Fort Worth ministry.
“This office gave me back my life,” Ontiveros said. “They guided me through the whole process of applying for a humanitarian visa.” He was able to get a work permit and a job at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
“You can imagine how difficult it was for me to get employment being an amputee and undocumented,” he said. “But now I have hope. They gave me my life back.”
The trials of immigration
The work ahead is not easy, said Mary Beth García, an attorney for the Fort Worth clinic.
“Communication can certainly be an issue sometimes in terms of language and culture. At times trying to find translators or interpreters can also be an issue, too,” she said.
However, the big issue is working with U.S. immigration laws. There are many families that cannot get help under the current laws or, if they can get help, there is a lot of hardship and separation that families have to go through, she said.
Volunteers were honored for their hard work at 10th anniversary celebration in Forth Worth, Texas.
For example, García said, many families in which one spouse does not have legal status face difficult choices. The law requires many to return to their homeland to apply for legal status. But by doing so they could be banned for 10 years from coming back under another law applying to people who live in the United States illegally, García said.
Some have to choose between the risk of a long separation by going back or living in the United States with the constant fear of being deported.
Despite the challenges, ministry workers say the work is rewarding.
“As people of faith we are called to welcome the sojourner in our midst, and we sort of hear that refrain of take care of the widow, the aliens, the poor,” Spaur said. “I just feel so blessed to be able to work in this ministry and with the clients that come through our doors. They’re great people. I love them.”
*Casanova is associate editor of Spanish resources for United Methodist Communications.
News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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