Janet Lee says that her life in a small Vietnamese village used to be happy and peaceful. Then the Communists invaded, and then the war broke out. She says her home and village were destroyed; her family fled. When the war ended, Janet hoped to bring her parents to the United States to join her sister who came here in 1975. Janet’s family worked with the United States Embassy in Bangkok to petition to come to the U.S.
It was a very long wait, but Janet and her parents were finally granted permission to come to the United States through the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) in 1992. Nearly thirty nations participated in ODP, allowing Vietnamese refugees to emigrate from Vietnam in a legal, safe, and orderly manner rather than risking their lives at sea. Janet’s family was among thousands of Vietnamese who left the country in this manner.
In 2001, nine years after Janet’s family arrived in the U.S., Congress passed a law that allowed for Vietnamese with this public interest parole status to apply for their green cards. Janet’s parents both become permanent residents in the U.S. through this program, but Janet did not apply. She was already working as a math teacher and felt overwhelmed caring for her sick parents.
However, when her parents died, Janet needed public housing assistance but was unable to obtain it because she did not have her green card. She struggled to understand confusing details of administrative agencies such as housing, employment, Medicare, and Social Security.
When Janet came to Just Neighbors to explain her situation, it was clear that she was frazzled and overwhelmed. She carried with her two plastic bags of clothes– the majority of her possessions. We assisted her with her green card application, but since we knew it would take a while for her to receive the card, our volunteer attorney also agreed to go with her to her hearing at the Public Housing Authority in Fairfax to explain that she had lawful status and that her green card would eventually be arriving by mail.
When the Housing Authority said that there was nothing they could do, we contacted the Senator’s office, who helped us negotiate some hurdles so that we could complete her application for public housing assistance. (Her applications for unemployment assistance, Social Security, and Medicare also hinged on the green card application).
Janet’s case is not yet resolved, but we are confident that things will work out for her. At 67, she has had a rough life, but she is noticeably more upbeat in her demeanor over the past month. She sees hope– and a home– on the horizon, and we plan to be with her until her life is in more order.
One of the joys of serving at Just Neighbors is that many of our clients bring us home-cooked food in appreciation of our work. Earlier this month, a client who is starting up his own catering company prepared for us a feast of Peruvian food in gratitude for the months of work that we put into his case. We assured him that we would have worked just as hard on his case even if we hadn’t known of his culinary talents!
Just Neighbors was one of several organizations recognized by Fairfax County for its services for refugees in the community. On July 12th, the County Board of Supervisors designated July as Refugee Recognition and Awareness month in the county. Executive Director Rob Rutland-Brown represented Just Neighbors (in red shirt on left).
Volunteer of the Month
We would like to honor Shelley Ramsey as our Volunteer of the Month for July. Shelley has been volunteering at Just Neighbors three days per week since June, and has learned things exceptionally quickly. During her first week, Shelley shared information about Just Neighbors with a group of school teachers and counselors in Herndon; the audience thought she had been with the organization for months. Shelley recently graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio. She plans to pursue a graduate degree after she returns home to Memphis to work with the immigrant community.