“They didn’t want to come. You know, they think we all want to come, but we don’t. We don’t want to leave our home,” the interpreter explained to me. We were in a room with a mother and her four adult sons. The adult sons were professionals in their home country: an architect, engineer, accountant, and lawyer. They have been in the United States for a year, working hard to learn English. One of them has secured employment delivering pizzas. English remains a very difficult language for them. Their mother is illiterate in her native tongue, and so will probably not learn English. She came to us in a wheelchair. The family was forced to flee after their home was bombed. The bombing was retaliation for assisting U.S. armed forces. Injuries she sustained in the bombing led her to the wheelchair.
They are here as refugees, and are relieved to be in a safe place. But they face many many challenges as they seek to adjust to life in the United States. And they serve as an important reminder to us that all of the citizens of the world are not seeking to migrate to the United States. The refugees and asylees flee because of persecution or fear of persecution in their home country. It is good that we have humanitarian laws that enable us to offer them safety and security. In 2011 Just Neighbors helped 134 new asylees and refugees apply for green cards, an increase from the 90 new cases of this type in 2010. In December 2011 alone we accepted 23 refugee and asylee cases, and filed their applications for green cards.
They each smiled warmly and nodded appreciation as we said goodbye and their interpreter thanked us. We were sorry that they had to come to us for help, but thankful that Just Neighbors is here to help them.
We just opened our sixth case for Ana, who is eleven years old. She has Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that must be renewed every eighteen months. Immigration has announced that individuals from El Salvador with TPS have until March 12th to renew their status. This affects many individuals in the DC Metro area, as we have such a large Salvadoran population here. Just Neighbors assists immigrants with the TPS renewal process, which allows those who currently have the status to renew their work permit and continue to maintain legal status in the United States for another eighteen months, at which point Immigration will announce whether the status can be renewed. Those with TPS have maintained the status more than ten years, integrating into local communities despite the uncertainties each year about their status. It has been a treat for us to watch Ana grow up. Yet we yearn for a permanent status for her in this country that is her home.
Recap of 2011
2011 was a busy and productive year at Just Neighbors. We conducted 770 cases for 651 different clients, the second most clients we have served in a year (683 in 2010).
We handled more family unification cases in 2011 than in any other year, including refugee cases like those described in this month’s client story. We conducted 352cases within the category of family unification, an increase of 20 percent over last year.
Just Neighbors saw clients in 2011 from three new countries: The Bahamas, Cyprus, and Zambia. Our country total is now up to 116. Overall, 52 percent of the clients were Latino, 29 percent African, and 13 percent Asian.
In 2011, we matched our record-setting year in 2010 in terms of the number of volunteer hours logged. We recorded 8,400 volunteer hours, including more than 3,000 hours by volunteer attorneys.
This past year we also conducted 55 presentations to over 1,400 individuals throughout the community. We led discussions at churches, provided overviews of our work to shelters and local businesses, presented immigration laws to government employees and staff at local nonprofits, and shared about immigrant rights at low-income apartment complexes and elsewhere. If you know of a group who would like to learn more about our services or about how Immigration works, feel free to contact Rob Rutland-Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org