Michael, from Haiti, came to Just Neighbors in August 2010 from a homeless shelter. He was well educated, very personable, and spoke with no trace of an accent. He suffered from significant health problems.
We explained to Michael that the earthquake in Haiti eight months earlier allowed him to apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the U.S., which would authorize him to work and remain here lawfully as long as Immigration continued to accord Haiti that status. However, Michael insisted that he had entered the U.S. as a Lawful Permanent Resident when his father petitioned for him years ago, but that he had lost his green card at some point during his homelessness. He simply had no proof whatsoever that he had ever had a green card. Although we were unsure that Michael was an LPR, we knew that helping Michael getting a replacement green card was surely better than TPS, which is only temporary and does not provide a path to citizenship.
A volunteer attorney worked with Michael in the months that followed, first undertaking a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain Michael’s immigration record. Indeed, his story was true.
In addition, we were concerned that there might be criminal convictions in the past that could jeopardize his green card replacement. We fingerprinted Michael here at our office using a fingerprint kit we obtained through a grant two years ago to expedite cases. We sought criminal records from both DC and Maryland, and after we waited for six months for all the records to arrive we learned that Michael had not been convicted of anything to disqualify him from applying for another green card.
However, there was the issue of money. It normally costs $450 to apply for a lost green card, and it is hard to obtain a fee waiver from Immigration for this particular type of case. Thanks to diligent work by our attorneys, who cited Michael’s health history and extended stays in homeless shelters, Michael obtained the fee waiver.
Michael’s green card finally arrived last month, and once we were able to track him down, he came excitedly to the office to retrieve it. When he arrived, Michael delivered three hand-written notes to different staff and volunteers who had been involved with his case. The notes read:
I want to wish you a very special Christmas and a very prosperous New Year. Words can’t explain how grateful I feel for all the help and encouragement I’d received from you all my family. May God bless you with good health and prosperity to you and your family. Thank you so very much.
How Just Neighbors Started
As we complete our 15th year of service, we remember the story of our founding. The following is excerpted from a speech given by board chair Anne Ledyard at our October 27th celebration.
The idea of starting Just Neighbors really grew out of a misunderstanding! Allison Rutland Soulen was teaching ESL classes at Culmore United Methodist Church in the Bailey’s Crossroads neighborhood of Falls Church. One day Allison received a call from her aunt and uncle’s friend, Janet Horman, who was living in Atlanta. Janet had head that Allison was doing legal work with immigrants at Culmore. Allison told Janet that she was actually teaching English, but added that doing legal work was a really good idea!
In 1996 Janet moved to Northern Virginia, and she, Allison, and another Methodist minister, Helen Casey-Rutland took their vision of “welcoming the stranger” and made it a reality by starting Just Neighbors. Janet and Allison are both lawyers so they served in a double role as legal staff and co-executive directors, and Helen wrote newsletters and spoke about Just Neighbors at churches around the Virginia Conference.
So, how did these women fund Just Neighbors? They started with a fundraising letter to everyone on their Christmas lists. Within two years, the organization had a budget of $80,000. Today, the annual cash budget is over $400,000, plus more than a half million dollars worth of donated volunteer services.
Volunteer of the Month
Daniel Bever has volunteered at Just Neighbors since early August. He has a lively sense of humor and has been overhead exclaiming things like “Oh, it warms my heart!” when told he has a call on the line. Daniel also has a keen mind and has proven skilled at reviewing grants and adept at form completion of immigration documents. He has begun meeting with clients as well. Daniel graduated summa cum laude from The College of William and Mary this past May with a double major in Government and History. Like so many of our volunteers, Daniel is pursuing paid employment while he ponders graduate school.
Many clients of Just Neighbors stay connected with us long after their cases have closed. Dozens support the organization financially, as they have attained jobs and family stability that allow them to contribute. Many clients also receive the monthy e-newsletter.
Last month, after reading in the e-newsletter that her former attorney Sarah had become a mother, one client wrote to us:
It is great to hear from you. It is so exciting to know that Sarah has become a mom and welcomed her first baby. I will send a card to her later. I am working and my daughter became a Principal’s Honor Student. She is the only one who got it from two classes of students. I am very proud of her. Her teachers love her. God bless your good deeds.