NY JFON Participates in Welcoming Recent NYC Arrivals

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Monday, January 9th saw more than 250 individuals attend the Know Your Rights information session hosted by St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church (SPSA) in collaboration with New York Justice for Our Neighbors (NY JFON). The meeting is a new partnership with SPSA. The church, located in the Upper West Side has “historically responded to what is going on”, according to Pastor K Karpen of SPSA.

Since August 2022, SPSA has been providing support for those in these migrant arrivals as a result of the unprecedented bussing from the Southern Border. From 9 AM to 12 AM, the church becomes a haven where the migrant community can receive Welcome Backpacks, goods such as coats, diapers, hygiene supplies, and emergency food kits as part of a collaboration with West Side Campaign Against Hunger. Additionally, they can receive resources from community partner Venezuelan Immigration Aid and assistance with enrolling children in school. K says that the program has been growing exponentially.

Yet even as the immediate physical needs of the migrants are partially met through the indispensable work done by SPSA, other needs of the community exist, including an understanding of a stringent immigration system and legal representation. It was clear to JFON from previous encounters with those attending these weekly meetings that many attendees were unclear about ICE check-ins, court dates, and asylum applications, among other legal needs. JFON also realized the demand for more volunteers– specifically those fluent in Spanish and who would assist with intake and pro se representation (whereby the immigrants represent themselves in proceedings). “Many attendees thought their ICE check-ins were immigration court dates and had no idea how to learn when their actual court dates are scheduled,” said NY JFON Asylum Attorney Alexis Duecker.

To address the gap, JFON’s new partnership with SPSA will provide twice-monthly Know Your Rights/ Legal Information Sessions to a larger group and also one-on-one legal consultations for those who may be interested. From there, JFON can select cases to offer full legal representation as well as cases where they offer pro se assistance. Even with JFON’s help, the need has been overwhelming. These Know Your Rights legal information sessions are headed by Managing Attorney TJ Mills who states “During this time when immigrants– especially recent arrivals placed on accelerated deportation dockets– have been more vulnerable and face more hostility than ever before, the church of St. Paul and St. Andrew’s immigrant ministry, including its provision of clothing, food, and legal orientations, are crucially important. I’m privileged to serve a mission and ministry with such overwhelming commitment to the most vulnerable members of our community.”

There seems to be no shortage of those seeking legal help. TJ had his hands full attempting to respond to the interests of those seeking counsel last Monday. “We discovered a disturbing trend where people were being asked to attend court at a different venue,” shares NY JFON Executive Director Paul Fleck. “The venue is often a different city and state altogether.” JFON has the knowledge that could inform decisions about changing the venue to New York and is currently focused on addressing this specific issue with those who may have the expertise.

When asked what SPSA’s goal of creating a “community of radical welcome” means, K responded by saying that he “hopes it means that on every level– that people can come here and feel like it is their place.” SPSA’s weekly meetings in service to the new migrant community have demonstrated their capacity for a radical welcome. “We have met some amazing people and I want them to have a little bit less of a hard time,” concludes K.

Message from Pastor Lea Matthews

When asked to comment on SPSA’s efforts with the new arrival of migrant friends, Lea had some salient and electrifying words for us to reflect on: 

“Many in power and beyond frame what is happening as a “migrant crisis.”  This is a fundamental misperception and puts the blame on the arriving asylum-seekers.  It is not a migrant crisis.  We, in New York City, were already in the midst of a housing crisis.  Before the buses started arriving here, we were already living with a healthcare crisis, a poverty crisis, and a fair wage crisis.  The arrival of new neighbors is not the source of any of those problems.  It merely highlights the failures of all those systems and more.  

We are told no less than 8 times in scripture to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Well, now we have thousands more neighbors to love.  And that love can be as simple as giving someone a winter coat, having a conversation in Spanish, offering effort more than perfection, helping someone navigate a City ID process, or connecting them with the migrant communities already present and fully participating in the city.  But it can also, and must also, look like doing research to better understand the history of immigration laws and how they have been designed to act as racialized gatekeepers since their inception.  It can and must look like advocating for real and profound policy changes so that the lives of undocumented folks can, from the start, be supported and can allow for real integration into our communities. 

Loving our new neighbors can look like calling our elected officials and explaining why they must support the legislation that would help expand healthcare coverage, expand housing vouchers, limit evictions, provide more funding and more offices to support arriving asylum-seekers to get legal representation while in deportation procedures, and also to help them navigate the bureaucratic landscape of asylum.  There are so many ways that we can love our newest neighbors in the city.  Which avenue of love you choose doesn’t matter.  But in my mind, as a person of faith, it isn’t a choice of whether to act or not… just how.”

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