As legal director for Austin (Texas) Region Justice for Our Neighbors, Julie Flanders sees firsthand the impact of Peace with Justice Sunday.
An affiliate of the national Justice for Our Neighbors, a United Methodist immigration ministry, the group provides free or low-cost immigration legal services, education and advocacy. Much of its work involves helping women and children who are fleeing their country due to abuse and persecution, which makes them eligible for special protections under U.S. immigration laws, said Flanders.
Since 2014, the group has put a focus on representing unaccompanied minors, whom Flanders calls "the most vulnerable immigrants in our midst."
"(They) were entering the border at record numbers and continue to enter at high numbers. They are fleeing unspeakable violence in Central America due to gang and drug warfare."
Flanders said there was a limited capacity to represent this large population in court.
"The big picture goal is that we are trying to make a statement that all immigrants are children of God and deserve access to an equal and fair process to become legal," she said.
Flanders recounted the story of an African widow who was courted by a Texas man through an online dating site. He eventually traveled to meet her and her family in Africa and the pair was engaged.
"They followed the legal process for her and her two sons to come to the United States with a fiancé visa. Once they arrived, and he took them to the rural Texas town where he lived, they were married. However, slowly she found out he was a fraud and nothing she thought she knew about him was true," Flanders said. "They had left everything behind to come to a new country, but now they were stuck in a very vulnerable place with no knowledge of their legal rights."
The woman had become a member of the local United Methodist church, and her pastor referred her to Justice for Our Neighbors. The group worked for more than two years to help the family receive special legal protection.
"The two boys are doing very well in school, and now have the relief to know they will be able to succeed, attend college, and not be afraid of losing the life that they have created here," Flanders said.
In addition to helping immigrants, the group delivers presentations on immigration law and policy to local churches and the public, extending its impact.
Flanders said the Peace with Justice Sunday offering helps cover the costs of travel to immigration court and clinic locations, as well as attorney and administrative staff salaries.
Every dollar is making a difference.
"With your help, we are making a huge, direct impact in the lives of immigrants. This is sending a message to the community that the Methodist church cares about being hands and feet in a practical and actionable way."
Julie Dwyer, general church content editor, United Methodist Communications.
One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, Peace with Justice Sunday enables The United Methodist Church to have a voice in advocating for peace and justice through a broad spectrum of global programs. The special offering benefits peace with justice ministries in the annual conference and through the General Board of Church and Society.
When you give generously on Peace with Justice Sunday, you give The United Methodist Church a voice in advocating for global peace and justice. Give now.