Stillness. I recently participated in a silent retreat at a Jesuit retreat center where I discovered the gift of stillness and quiet. As I sat in the chapel complete with beautiful stained glass windows and high ceiling beams, I thought of Oscar Romero and Álvaro Conrado. Although decades apart, both died near another church sanctuary because they chose to align themselves with the oppressed and marginalized. Almost four decades ago, Father Romero boldly stood alongside poor Salvadoran peasants as they faced death squads from their own government. He prayed for his enemies and was shot while celebrating mass. On April 20, 2018, 15-year old Álvaro was shot in the neck by a Nicaraguan government sniper. He was on his way to bring water to student protestors who had taken refuge in the city’s cathedral. In the quiet of the sanctuary, I found hope in their stories.
I am a doer. Being still is not my natural inclination. In a year of incessant noise — the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the Muslim Ban, restrictions on asylum protection for domestic violence survivors, proposal to punish immigrants for using food stamps and accessing health care, separation of families at the border — being still may seem nonsensical. It is. Yet stillness and quiet can also restore and nourish our aching souls. So we can keep moving forward. Keep advocating. Keep praying. Keep hoping. Death, suffering and injustice do not have the last word. God does.
Amy P. Lee
Executive Director & Managing Attorney
Direct Legal Services
This year, our small staff of three, with the help of our amazing volunteers, provided direct immigration legal services to over 500 individuals. About 80% of these individuals had incomes at or below 250% of the federal poverty level ($62,750 for a family of 4). One-third of our clients are Asian or Pacific Islanders and over half are Latino. The majority of our clients are served in their native language: Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin or Tagalog. Our docket includes family-based immigration (40%), relief for victims of violence and abuse (25%) and deportation defense (22%). This year we received our first government grant from San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs!
Community education and policy advocacy
In April, Amy Lee joined over 500 lawyers from the American Immigration Lawyers Association to meet with lawmakers in Washington D.C. to advocate for just and humane immigration policies. In partnership with community partners like Chinese for Affirmative Action, Wu Yee Children’s Services, San Francisco-Marin Food Bank and Mission Economic Development Agency, we conducted community trainings in Cantonese, Spanish and English on topics such as public charge and immigrant rights. This fall, we mobilized congregations to submit public comments opposing the federal government’s public charge proposal to punish low-income immigrants for accessing nutrition, health care and housing programs. Lastly, we made several appearances on the KTSF Channel 26 Evening News and Sing Tao Radio to discuss immigration topics in Cantonese and Mandarin.
Below is one of our clients’ stories (with the names and details changed to protect our client’s identity).
Kira is a middle schooler from Guatemala. An older boy, a known gang member, had professed that he was in love with her and started stalking and harassing her. Fearing for Kira’s safety, her mother reluctantly agreed to have Kira’s father, who worked as a “coyote” (smuggler), bring her to the U.S. Kira barely knew her father. During their journey to the U.S., he attempted to sexually assault her. Fortunately, a stranger intervened. When Kira arrived at U.S. border, government officials separated her from her father because his name was not on her birth certificate. Kira was detained in a youth facility for several months before being released to the care of Maria, her mother’s cousin. Kira lived with Maria’s family and started attending a local middle school. Because Kira has been abused, neglected and abandoned by her father, she is eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), a pathway to citizenship for vulnerable young immigrants under age 21. If she is granted SIJS, she will be eligible to apply for a green card and U.S. citizenship.
In the past year, USCIS has been systematically denying SIJS to youth between the ages of 18-20. In August, a group of pro bono lawyers sued the government to stop these illegal denials. The judge has ordered the government to temporarily stop the denials. The underlying legal issues in the case will continue to be litigated. For now, the future of these immigrant youth remains uncertain.
By Clare K. Crawford, Staff Attorney
Each week (sometimes daily!), this Administration weakens, threatens or obliterates some pathway to citizenship that our clients rely on. Unfortunately, after working at Jubilee for more than a year, this is what I have come to expect. I have been told that things were worse back in the eighties during the Central American wars. But as a 22 year old, this current fear mongering climate against immigrants is the only historical context that I know. It makes sense that “sad,” “frustrated,” and “exhausted” are often my honest answers to “how are you?” Our client victories at Jubilee can feel small when I consider the many people we are unable to help because of our limited resources and who must navigate the immigration maze on their own. Yet, I find deep and lasting joy in serving our clients because I see how crucial our work is in their lives.
At Jubilee, we fight for our clients’ legal status here in the U.S., but their journey often began with the trauma that forced them to flee their home countries. Many are refugees fleeing life-threatening violence in Central America due to gangs, drugs, corruption and poverty. They have made the incredibly difficult decision to leave everything and everyone behind just for the hope of escaping that violence. Their journey will not end in a courtroom or at an immigration interview, where our work ends. Legal status — and the physical and mental peace that comes with it — is just one critical step on their lifelong journey of healing.
“How can I help those on this journey?” you may be wondering. Here are some of my suggestions:
Get to know the immigrants in your community. They’re your neighbors, the parents of your child’s friend or the people who work at your favorite lunch spot.
Get involved with local advocacy groups. Support vulnerable immigrants in the form of a public comment to a government proposal. Speak out on their behalf at a community event or vote in an election.
Use your resources to invest in immigrant communities. Invest in the lives of immigrants and refugees as a tangible expression of our care and welcome. Give to Jubilee or other advocacy groups. Volunteer at your local school’s newcomer program.
However we choose to show solidarity with vulnerable immigrants, may we offer a glimmer of hope in the midst of their long, courageous journey to wholeness and healing.
By Justin Talbott, Legal Advocate
Thank you so much for your support. As we enter into our fourth year and continue to grow, please consider giving an ongoing or end-of-the-year gift to Jubilee. Your gift would make high-quality, affordable legal representation accessible to more marginalized immigrants. Please tell your friends and family about Jubilee!
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