Justice for Our Neighbors
Twenty years ago this October, The United Methodist Church created a ministry called Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON). Founded by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), it grew out of that agency’s long-standing commitment to refugees and immigrants, dating to the 1940s.
In the 20 years since its founding, JFON has opened 17 offices in 15 states, including two in Florida. And, according to the National JFON website, it had its busiest year in 2018, serving 4,395 new clients from 112 different countries. Among the milestones compiled in 2018: asylum cases increased by three percent, work to help eligible immigrants become U.S. citizens increased by six percent and the influx of unaccompanied migrant children increased by 13 percent. Overall, JFON nationwide has served approximately 20,000 immigrants, refugees and asylum-seeking neighbors since 2014.
In Florida, the need for JFON’s services is acute, according to Rev. Janet Horman, executive director. The primary office is in Cutler Bay, a suburb of Miami, and serves low-income immigrants from Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
“We always see a spike in immigrants after a natural disaster such as the earthquake in Haiti or Hurricane Dorian the Bahamas,” Horman said. “For those who have basic needs, like food and shelter, we partner with Church World Services,” she said. “Our primary support comes from UMCOR and United Methodist Women and from the generosity of local churches and private donors.”
Florida JFON began in 2014 as a mission of the South East District. A Florida native, Horman has a rare combination of skills. She is an ordained pastor in the Florida Annual Conference and has a degree in immigration law. She is the only full-time immigration attorney in the South Florida office, which relies on grants to help it expand its services. It recently hired a part-time staffer for cases in Central Florida. A second grant led to the hiring of an attorney to help with the South Florida caseload.
“Lay volunteers screen applicants to see if they have a way forward. If they do, one of our staff or volunteer immigration attorneys gets involved.” Horman points out that many of the people who come into the U.S. have a better chance of achieving their goals if they have a college degree and/or a green card or work visa.
However, those who are fleeing violence and oppression may not be as fortunate.
“Many are from poorer countries where they may be starving and unable to break the cycle of poverty,” Horman said. Some of the many complexities of immigration law occur when countries have a quota regarding how many immigrants will be allowed to enter within a given time frame or within a specific category, Horman said.
“For example, the door has already closed on Bahamians seeking refuge from Hurricane Dorian,” she said, “and the timeframe for Haitians entering the U.S. following the devastating earthquake will expire in January.”
To learn more about JFON’s work in South and Central Florida, please go to this link.
Although immigration policy is considered a political hot potato by some, the call to care for one another, including the stranger, is a biblical concept and one of the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church. Here is the social principle from the 2016 edition of the “Book of Discipline,” paragraph 162.H, “The Rights of Immigrants”:
We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God. We affirm the right of all persons to equal opportunities for employment, access to housing, healthcare, education, and freedom from social discrimination. We urge the Church and Society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all. We oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children, and we call on local churches to be in ministry with immigrant families.