UMCOR, partners start asylum seekers project

United Methodists are initiating a three-year, $2 million pilot project to support asylum seekers in the U.S. and engage local church members as they embrace the biblical mandate of welcoming the stranger in their own communities.

Three partners — the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Church World Service and National Justice For Our Neighbors — will work together to provide resettlement support and legal assistance for those claiming asylum in New York, Houston and Miami. 

Your gifts on UMCOR Sunday helps support lay the foundation for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to share God's love with communities everywhere.

The project was introduced during the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries meeting Oct. 10-12. UMCOR is a part of the denomination's mission agency and the UMCOR directors approved the grants to CWS and NJFON.

Eli Fernandez (center), a volunteer with Catholic Charities, helps direct immigrants who have been released from detention by the U.S. Border Patrol and brought to the bus station in McAllen, Texas in August 2018. A joint effort of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Church World Service and National Justice For Our Neighbors will provide resettlement support and legal assistance for those claiming asylum in New York, Houston and Miami. The project was introduced during the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries meeting Oct. 10-12 in Atlanta. File photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

New York Area Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, UMCOR's president, noted that addressing issues of migration was part of the relief agency's mandate.

"In the midst of these challenging days for so many, whether it is due to a natural disaster, a life-threatening disease or the ongoing threats of persecution, we take seriously our role to make our name come alive for anyone anywhere that needs the United Methodist Committee on Relief," he told UM News.

NJFON, a United Methodist network of organizations providing free and low-cost legal services to immigrants will provide the legal assistance component for the project. NJFON is a wholly-owned subsidiary of UMCOR.

Bickerton encouraged United Methodists to support the pilot project by donating to JFON through UMCOR and "most importantly, to raise awareness within our congregations of the current challenges facing those who are seeking asylum and to actively pray for their well-being."

CWS, which has been resettling refugees since World War II, will help asylum seekers with practical needs such as housing, registering children for school, enrolling in language classes and accessing various social service and community programs.

"None of us can do this alone and we felt that establishing a partnership with UMCOR and Justice for Our Neighbors was the right way to address this," said Erol Kekic, executive director of the CWS Immigration and Refugee Program.

"We all bring to the table different assets and capacities, and we certainly can do more together than we can do alone."

The asylum pilot project also offers a new way for the three partners to respond to increasingly restrictive U.S. immigration policies. The most recent action set the 2020 refugee ceiling at 18,000, compared with previous average levels of 95,000.

"Asylum is a fundamental human right," Kekic said. "Access to asylum has to be open to people if we're going to be living in a global community."

UMCOR supports migration projects on a worldwide basis. Unlike some of its other work, "global migration is not a disaster, it's a phenomenon," said the Rev. Jack Amick, UMCOR's director of global migration.

The relief agency also wants to "excite the imagination" of churches and offer ways to embrace the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger. The asylum seekers project is one way to do that, he added.

excerpt from a story by Linda Bloom, assistant news editor, UMNS

One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, UMCOR Sunday calls United Methodists to share the goodness of life with those who hurt. Your gifts to UMCOR Sunday lay the foundation for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to share God's love with communities everywhere. The special offering underwrites UMCOR's "costs of doing business." This helps UMCOR to keep the promise that 100 percent of any gift to a specific UMCOR project will go toward that project, not administrative costs.

When you give generously on UMCOR Sunday, you make a difference in the lives of people who hurt. Give now.