Twenty years ago, as the dream of a Methodist pastor’s wife, Doris Knight, the Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors clinics were born. First in Des Moines and then in Sioux City, the idea of providing professional legal help for immigrants newly arrived in Iowa spread throughout the state.
The concept of a legal clinic with volunteers who would help with understanding all the forms full of questions and terms that had no meaning for them and professional immigrant attorneys who would follow their cases through the court system to finally becoming a citizen was a godsend for those frightened new arrivals. And being a pastor’s wife, who else would Doris turn to but the Methodist Church to be the sponsor and funding source!
By 2004, there were 7 JFON clinics in the state, all of them holding monthly appointments for 10-12 immigrants once a month in their district. The clinic in the East Central District was and still is at Lovely Lane Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids. The clinic coordinator is Kay Graber from our church. Students from the Mt. Vernon High School assist with Spanish translation. Cornell College provides a carload of volunteers.
In 2018, the three attorneys who came just to the Cedar Rapids clinic took on 3, 161 new cases. Nearly every case lasts for 3-4 years. By far, the most frequent need was for those escaping violence. Many also were seeking something called “legal permanent residency” or “green cards” which would allow them to legally work and earn wages to support their families. Still others were seeking family reunification, citizenship, or asylum.
Sadly, the Methodist Church Annual Conference is having a difficult time continuing its financial support for the JFON clinics. Even though a percentage of each church’s apportionments is sent to missions, of which JFON is one, the clinic coordinators are scrambling to write grants, request help from community organizations and to seek support through special offerings in churches.
Everything for the clinics is done by volunteers. Food is provided by church women for a common evening meal. The coordinators are volunteers. Those who assist with childcare and with interpreting the forms for the immigrants are all volunteers. The site costs nothing. Only the lawyers receive pay which is far below what they would receive in the private sector, and the four employed by JFON serve all 7 clinics, accumulating more cases every month. Unfortunately, one of those attorneys had to be let go recently because JFON could no longer pay his wages.
Our special offering this Sunday is for the Methodist Iowa mission, Justice for Our Neighbors. Please give generously!