MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2018 LA GAZETTE, CEDAR RAPIDS IOWA

Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors holds annual fundraiser next month

Fundraiser focuses on raising funds to pay costs state and federal grants don't cover

CEDAR RAPIDS — A nonprofit organization devoted to helping immigrants with legal issues for the last 19 years is having its annual fundraiser next month to pay for costs that state and federal grants don’t cover.

Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors has been serving low-income clients across the state since 1999. The organization provides free, quality immigration legal services, education and advocacy. There are legal clinics open once a month in Cedar Rapids, Columbus Junction, Decorah, Des Moines, Ottumwa, Marshalltown and Storm Lake to help clients, who see one of the three immigration attorneys of the organization. The Cedar Rapids clinic has operated for 14 years.

The organization hopes to raise $100,000 this year to continue helping immigrants and refugees with work authorization, family reunification, escape from violence, naturalization and citizenship, DACA and advice and counsel, Sol Varisco Santini said.

The event will be at the Clark Alumni House at Coe College from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 6. There will be a luncheon and special music and dance by the Bhutanese Community of Eastern Iowa. There also will be keynote speaker, Deepa Iyer, a South Asian-American activist, writer and lawyer. She is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Social Inclusion, where she provides analysis and commentary on “equity and solidarity in America’s changing racial landscape.”

Iyer’s first book, “We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future,” received a 2016 American Book Award and was selected as a top 10 multicultural non-fiction book of 2015.  

Iyer also has served for many years as the executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, where she helped to shape the organization’s work on civil and immigrant rights issues, network building and solidarity. She also has worked as legal director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center and as a trial attorney with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where she helped with an initiative to address post-9/11 backlash with two other attorneys. 

Varisco Santini said volunteers who work at each of the clinics also will be recognized during the event, including Doris Knight of Des Moines, who will be presented with the Iowa Immigration Leadership Award. Knight was the first volunteer executive director for 15 years.  

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Varisco Santini, the first paid executive director who started last year, said the organization hopes individuals as well as businesses will make donations before or during the event.

The Iowa office accounts for 17 percent of the total clients of the national organization’s 5,000-plus clients. The Iowa organization helped 1,187 individuals with 2,490 cases from 130 different countries in 2017.

The 2017 year end statistics show 709 people received legal help to escape violence, such as domestic abuse or another crime, 750 received advice and counsel, 417 for work authorization, 392 family reunification and 222 for citizenship issues.

Varisco Santini said not all the clients that are included in the advice and counsel category probably resulted in actual cases because everyone initially is seen to find out their issue but not every case is accepted. One of the lawyers will try to refer to another lawyer outside the organization.     

The organization wasn’t able to help 846 people because they didn’t have capacity, or they had a legal issue outside of the typical issues the lawyers can handle, Varisco Santini said. These could be a number of issues, such as involving criminal charges.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

 

 

 

 

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  Click here to read our Iowa JFON Newsletter July 2018

 

http://www.lauriehaller.org/lets-stand-up-together/

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Let’s Stand Up Together!

Posted on March 19, 2018 by Laurie Haller

It seemed serendipitous, but it was no accident. I found myself sitting next to Doris Knight last week at the dedication of the new offices for Justice for our Neighbors (JFON) in Des Moines. According to their website, Iowa JFON is a “nonprofit organization, welcoming low-income immigrants of all faiths into our churches and communities by providing free, high-quality immigration legal services, education and advocacy.”

Doris was instrumental in starting Iowa JFON in 1999 and served as their first executive director as a volunteer for 15 years. The first legal clinics were in Sioux City, Omaha and Des Moines, and today Iowa has seven clinics around the state.

 

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“I was so blessed to be used by God,” Doris said. Her face beamed as she marveled at those who had gathered to celebrate thousands of lives that have been changed because of this United Methodist immigration ministry. A more diverse group of staff, volunteers and clients I have not experienced in a long time: many ages, cultures, religions, ethnicities, skin colors and languages. What drew us together last Thursday was a deep desire to love our neighbor, especially the immigrants in our midst. Among many guiding scriptures for Justice for our Neighbors is Exodus 22:21, “Don’t mistreat or oppress an immigrant, because you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt.”

In 2017, Iowa JFON saw 1,187 new clients. Although many people assume that Iowa does not have much ethnic diversity, dozens of countries are represented. The highest numbers are from Mexico: 336; El Salvador: 131; Burma: 103; Guatemala: 97; and Liberia: 78. Iowa JFON handled 2,490 total cases in 2017. They involved family reunification: 392 (16%); escaping violence: 709 (28%); citizenship: 222 (9%), advice and counsel: 750 (30%), and work authorization: 417 (17%). A typical immigration case can take between 10 and 100 hours to complete.

Sol Varisco was hired in November 2017 as Iowa JFON’s first paid executive director. When I met with Sol in December, she knew that JFON needed a new location with more space, but they could not pay market rate as a non-profit with limited resources. Sol and I prayed that God would provide a way for JFON to locate in an area of Des Moines that would be affordable and provide easy access for those needing their services.

Sol told me last week that in January and February, she called 16 different locations that were offering space, with no luck. The owners of the last location never returned her call, so one day Sol went to the area and talked to a neighboring business owner. That person opened the door for a contact to be made, and now JFON is housed in a beautiful suite of offices that is inviting to all who enter its doors.

Several Des Moines religious leaders participated in the blessing of JFON’s new offices, for the plight of immigrants in our midst is of concern to all religious faiths. I was delighted to share that Iowa JFON was a model and guide for JFON in West Michigan, which started in 1994 out of the downtown church in Grand Rapids where I was serving. I saw firsthand how concern for the legal needs of the immigrants brought together people of all faiths in the city.

Bishop Richard Pates of the Catholic Dioceses of Des Moines reminded us that our God has a special preference for the immigrants and the poor in our midst. He emphasized that every person deserves respect and dignity, for we are all made in the image of God and should have the opportunity to live a full life.

Buddhist monk Honorable Razinda chanted “Hommage to the Buddha.” Some of us had an English translation, but even those who could not understand the language felt connected to the Honorable Razinda in a special way.

  • “This is what should be done by one who is skilled in goodness, and who seeks the path of peace: Let them be able and upright, straightforward and gentle in speech, humble and not conceited.”
  • “Radiating kindness over the entire world spreading upwards to the skies, and downwards to the depths; Outwards and unbounded, freed from hatred and ill-will.
  • “By not holding to fixed views, the pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision, being freed from all sense desires, is not born again into this world.”

And Hindi priest Pandit Mukti Subedi, chanting the final hymn from the Holy Book, reminded us that we are all involved together in this ministry. We cannot do it on our own. We need to model the generosity of God by helping the immigrants in our midst because everyone should prevail peacefully on the earth. Every individual has a right to live with dignity and independence.

What a joy it was to witness people of many different traditions standing up together in solidarity with our immigrant brothers and sisters! As Christians continue our journey this week toward Jerusalem and the cross, the Palm Sunday Old Testament lectionary passage from Isaiah 50:4-9a reminds us of our call to respond to the weary and stand up together to make a difference in the face of suffering and injustice.

4 The Lord God gave me an educated tongue
to know how to respond to the weary
with a word that will awaken them in the morning.

God awakens my ear in the morning to listen,
as educated people do.
5 The Lord God opened my ear;
I didn’t rebel; I didn’t turn my back.
6 Instead, I gave my body to attackers,
and my cheeks to beard pluckers.
I didn’t hide my face
from insults and spitting.
7 The Lord God will help me;
therefore, I haven’t been insulted.
Therefore, I set my face like flint,
and knew I wouldn’t be ashamed.
8 The one who will declare me innocent is near.
Who will argue with me?
Let’s stand up together.
    Who will bring judgment against me?
Let him approach me.
9 Look! The Lord God will help me.
Who will condemn me?

How is God calling you and me to stand up together this week?

 

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Click here for our Iowa JFON March 2018 Newsletter

https://www.thegazette.com/subject/life/people-and-places/iowa-justice-for-our-neighbors-holds-annual-fundraiser-next-month-20180903

Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors holds annual fundraiser next month

Fundraiser focuses on raising funds to pay costs state and federal grants don't cover

CEDAR RAPIDS — A nonprofit organization devoted to helping immigrants with legal issues for the last 19 years is having its annual fundraiser next month to pay for costs that state and federal grants don’t cover.

Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors has been serving low-income clients across the state since 1999. The organization provides free, quality immigration legal services, education and advocacy. There are legal clinics open once a month in Cedar Rapids, Columbus Junction, Decorah, Des Moines, Ottumwa, Marshalltown and Storm Lake to help clients, who see one of the three immigration attorneys of the organization. The Cedar Rapids clinic has operated for 14 years.

The organization hopes to raise $100,000 this year to continue helping immigrants and refugees with work authorization, family reunification, escape from violence, naturalization and citizenship, DACA and advice and counsel, Sol Varisco Santini said.

The event will be at the Clark Alumni House at Coe College from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 6. There will be a luncheon and special music and dance by the Bhutanese Community of Eastern Iowa. There also will be keynote speaker, Deepa Iyer, a South Asian-American activist, writer and lawyer. She is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Social Inclusion, where she provides analysis and commentary on “equity and solidarity in America’s changing racial landscape.”

Iyer’s first book, “We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future,” received a 2016 American Book Award and was selected as a top 10 multicultural non-fiction book of 2015.  

Iyer also has served for many years as the executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, where she helped to shape the organization’s work on civil and immigrant rights issues, network building and solidarity. She also has worked as legal director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center and as a trial attorney with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where she helped with an initiative to address post-9/11 backlash with two other attorneys. 

Varisco Santini said volunteers who work at each of the clinics also will be recognized during the event, including Doris Knight of Des Moines, who will be presented with the Iowa Immigration Leadership Award. Knight was the first volunteer executive director for 15 years.  

 

Varisco Santini, the first paid executive director who started last year, said the organization hopes individuals as well as businesses will make donations before or during the event.

The Iowa office accounts for 17 percent of the total clients of the national organization’s 5,000-plus clients. The Iowa organization helped 1,187 individuals with 2,490 cases from 130 different countries in 2017.

The 2017 year end statistics show 709 people received legal help to escape violence, such as domestic abuse or another crime, 750 received advice and counsel, 417 for work authorization, 392 family reunification and 222 for citizenship issues.

Varisco Santini said not all the clients that are included in the advice and counsel category probably resulted in actual cases because everyone initially is seen to find out their issue but not every case is accepted. One of the lawyers will try to refer to another lawyer outside the organization.     

The organization wasn’t able to help 846 people because they didn’t have capacity, or they had a legal issue outside of the typical issues the lawyers can handle, Varisco Santini said. These could be a number of issues, such as involving criminal charges.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com