A Dream of Reunion

The larger goals that guide Just Neighbors staff and volunteers extend beyond the process of securing legal status for immigrants. We aim instead to create strong, empathetic communities by ensuring all members feel welcome and happy. In order to achieve this, then, we often strive to reunite families and loved ones across great distances and through years of patient work, as in the following case.

In 1998, Philip Martin, a Methodist pastor and native of Sierra Leone, came to the Just Neighbors office in a desperate situation: his home country, where his wife Juliette lived, was deeply embroiled in a civil war; he had filed a claim for asylum in the U.S., but without legal knowledge had made errors and was turned down; thus, without legal protection, he was facing deportation. Pastor Martin turned to Just Neighbors for representation at his Immigration Court hearing, and our volunteer attorneys helped him attain a temporary protected status (TPS) offered by the government to Sierra Leone citizens in the U.S. Although safe from imminent danger, the temporary status did not allow Pastor Martin to petition for his wife’s immigration, nor could he present a claim to the Immigration Court for either his or her asylum.

In the following years, Pastor Martin renewed his TPS, and his wife escaped the violence of Sierra Leone by moving to the Republic of Gambia. He worked as a Methodist pastor in the Virginia Conference and, with legal assistance from Just Neighbors, applied for a religious worker’s visa. This application went to the Immigration Court for review, and after two hearings Pastor Martin became a lawful permanent resident, on the basis of his religious work, in January of 2003. Despite this breakthrough, reuniting with his wife proved even more difficult because of heightened security restrictions in the wake of 9/11. It several years and a great deal of work between Just Neighbors, the United Methodist Church, and a variety of government officials, but in November of 2010 Juliette and Pastor Martin reunited. Afterwards, Pastor Martin wrote, “Thanks to God and Just Neighbors for this wonderful success and reunion!”

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The mission of Just Neighbors is to provide immigration legal services to low-income immigrants and refugees in Virginia, especially those who are most vulnerable. We also seek to foster enriching experiences that enhance awareness and mutual understanding among our clients, volunteers, staff and community.

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