Immigrant Asylum Clinics: Opportunities to be Hospitable and Helpful

Date Posted: 11/10/2016

The dozens of volunteers associated with helping immigrants at recent legal clinics believe everyone needs somewhere to call home – where they feel safe.
 
Inspired by the real-life stories, Texas Annual Conference churches and volunteers are coming to the aid of immigrants seeking asylum as they flee horrific violence in Central America. “So far, three of our churches have hosted day-long asylum clinics, and we are planning for another nine in 2017,” shares Rev. Diane McGehee, Director of the TAC Center for Missional Excellence. “We are partnering with the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative to help address the tremendous need for legal assistance for families who are crossing our borders and potentially becoming eligible for asylum, but who cannot afford an attorney.” she explains.
 
In preparation for these pilot clinics, Anne Chandler, Executive Director of Tahirih Justice Center, is leading her organization to provide another layer of client screening as well as recruiting attorneys to help these families. “In addition to the childcare helpers and attorneys, the volunteer interpreters and translators are essential to the process because they work directly with the families to capture their stories, and translate documents,” she explains “We want to make sure the facts are complete on all the paperwork required on applications to go before a judge as a next step.”
 
Anne applauds the support of the TAC churches and volunteers who are making these clinics possible, knowing that each event impacts about 10 families and 30 individuals. “Special thanks to the Texas Conference for pursuing additional churches and volunteers for the next nine clinics we hope to conduct in 2017.”
 
St. Paul’s UMC, Sunset UMC and Cypress Trails UMC have hosted the 2016 clinics with open arms. “We hosted this workshop at Cypress Trails because all Christians, regardless of denomination or political persuasion, have a calling to unconditionally offer God’s grace to refugees,” shares Rev. Luis Ramirez. “In the same manner that Joseph, Mary and Jesus were refugees in Egypt during the time of the Herodian genocide of the children, so are these individuals refugees in Texas during a time of turmoil in Central America. We received them to CTUMC with great joy and expectation realizing that it was Jesus and his family whom we were welcoming. The event is very volunteer intensive. From CTUMC’s point of view, our goals were simple: 1) to be gracious and hospitable, and 2) to give the children who would attend the best day of their life.”
 
Heather Ramirez adds, “To provide the best care possible for the children, we had a full day of scheduled activities including a mini festival with games and prizes, crafts, drumming fun, soccer on the front lawn and a movie with snacks.”
 
Gracy Chavez, an employee of the Texas Conference Center for Clergy Excellence was one of several conference employees to devote long hours to this cause. Notes Gracy, “I really enjoyed this unique workshop, and it was very heartwarming to be able to help and see some relief in the faces of the parents and children, helping to uplift them.” She adds, “I was assigned to translate documents that needed to be turned in, as well as translate their horrible experiences to the attorneys that were taking their statements.  I learned how empowering it is to realize how much you have in your own life and how beautiful it is to share with others the hope and opportunities they can have as well. I was reminded that every human and family deserve a place to call home and a place to feel safe.  Helping these women to provide some kind of safety and comfort was just a small but meaningful contribution I could provide.”
 
Most of the applicants are young mothers facing domestic abuse, and often their children face other dangers including gang recruitment.  Anne shares that “some families leave the clinics with eight or more copies of multiple applications, depending on the complexity of their unique situations.” According to the partnering organizations, the paperwork to obtain protection in the United States is difficult to navigate. “I’m a Harvard trained lawyer,” notes Diane, “and I struggle to figure out these application requirements. I am proud of the TAC for stepping up to the plate to help these young mothers, families and children who have viable claims to escape the danger in their home countries. So far, these clinics have been as much of a blessing to the volunteers as to the families.”
 
“I was amazed to see what happened when a mom, finally finishing her consultation and paperwork around 7 p.m., went to pick up her children, and they asked to stay another 20 minutes,” shared Anne. “I learned that the volunteers heading childcare had an amazing schedule of fun and crafts that stretched over the entire day and into the evening.”
 
Call to Action
Diane McGehee encourages churches and individuals to help spread the word and/or register to volunteer. Address questions to Ana Robles at arobles@txcumc.org. Other ways to get involved:
Attorney registration: https://goo.gl/forms/j8z3XODNu1tLvHw52
Non-attorney (e.g. translators, runners/greeters) registration: https://goo.gl/forms/HXG3sEFav6dLpsQ82