The room was silent. Shawn, a 78 year old Sikh with a turban and a long white beard, sat in his wheelchair barefoot with his own personal United States flag in hand. A larger flag hung prominently in the corner. Shawn’s daughter and her husband stood next to him, along with a Just Neighbors Immigration Attorney. An Immigration Officer broke the silence, striding into the room and asking if the daughter could swear the Oath of Allegiance to the United States on behalf of her father. Shawn suffered from dementia and Parkinson’s disease and was unable to speak on his own.
The Officer, who showed great respect for Shawn and the family, read the oath line by line to the daughter, and Shawn seemed eager to stand and take part in this long-awaited moment. “I will support and defend the Constitution and law of the United States of America,” repeated the daughter, overjoyed that her father was finally joining her as a citizen of this country.
After the words “So help me God,” the daughter signed the Oath of Allegiance. The daughter’s husband excitedly pulled out his cell phone and began taking pictures, including photos of the Immigration Officer leaning next to Shawn smiling.
Shawn’s swearing-in ceremony ended 2010 on a high note for Just Neighbors. Shawn has been lovingly cared for by his family here in Virginia for years. His daughter had been unable to work full-time because she had to stay home and care for her father. He held the status of legal permanent resident for eight years. However, his health began to decline and his family struggled more and more to care for him as medical bills piled up. In desperate help for a solution, the family came to Just Neighbors.
Just Neighbors filed a naturalization application with a filing fee waiver on behalf of Shawn with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The case was accepted and the family waited with anticipation for the naturalization interview. Because Shawn’s various health conditions worsened, Just Neighbors filed the case with a disability waiver, removing the requirement for the naturalization test. This was approved and Shawn’s daughter was allowed to answer the questions on behalf of her father.
Now that Shawn is a United States Citizen he can apply for Medicaid, which will promise better and more affordable health care for Shawn during his twilight years.
Thank you to everyone who has donated in response to Just Neighbors’ annual campaign this November. With gifts still coming in, we have already received 52% more donations than last year’s campaign! This extra support will be critical as we head into the year with more immigrants in need of our services than ever before. It is a good feeling to know that during difficult economic times so many of you are standing behind our community members who need help the most. Thank you again for your generous support and involvement, which is the lifeblood of our work. Around the Office
Just Neighbors is thrilled to welcome our newest staff member, Stephanie Barnes. Stephanie, who has spent the past ten years working with American interns in Mexico, will serve as the organization’s Administrative Assistant. Her responsibilities involve overseeing day-to-day tasks, training and supervising volunteers, interpreting and translating, and attending community meetings on behalf of Just Neighbors. Stephanie joins our staff of four Immigration Attorneys, an Executive Director, and many talented volunteers and interns.
In 2010, Just Neighbors conducted 794 cases for 683 different clients (compared to 673 clients in 2009). Just Neighbors’ most significant accomplishment during the year was its increase in the number of cases conducted on behalf of immigrants who were the victims or witnesses of domestic violence and other serious crimes. These cases, which are by far the most time-consuming, rose from 241 in 2009 to 286 in 2010, a 19% increase. In addition, Just Neighbors conducted 293 “family unification” cases for individuals seeking to attain green cards for themselves and their family members, many of whom were refugees or asylees.
Just Neighbors has helped clients from 115 different countries since we started tracking in 2005. The breakdown of continent-of-origin has remained fairly consisted over the past few years, wiith 44% of the clients coming from North America, 22% from Africa, 16% from Asia, 16% from South America, and 3% from elsewhere. In 2010, we helped clients for the first time from Algeria, Belize, Jordan, and North Korea.
Volunteer of the Month
As mentioned in a previous e-newsletter, Just Neighbors has been fortunate to have the help of Todd Hinkie over the past six months as a Fellow from UVA Law School. He has maintained his own caseload and worked full-time, except for two breaks to marry Alejandra Vela twice– once in Mexico, where she is from, and once in Minnesota, where Todd’s family lives. Todd made up for these absences by bringing Alejandra to Just Neighbors to volunteer during the day as well. Since October, Alejandra has helped in the front office, answering phones and greeting clients. As Todd prepares to begin work with the Federal Government, we say good-bye to them both and appreciate all they’ve contributed to Just Neighbors.