Austin Region Justice for Our Neighbors

I am applying forAction Support Grant
FUNDS WILL BE USED TO:Maintain/expand current ministry
Name of OrganizationAustin Region Justice for Our Neighbors
AddressPO Box 17516
Austin, TX 78760
Map It
Contact PersonElizabeth Wright
TitleExecutive Director
EmailEmail hidden; Javascript is required.
Phone(512) 326-1988
Amount requested10000.00
Explain connection to The United Methodists Church

The Justice for Our Neighbors network began under the umbrella of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in 1999 as a recognition that the mercy of relief work must ultimately be paired with the long-term work of justice. Austin Region Justice for Our Neighbors was organized as an initiative led by clergy and lay leaders through the then-Austin District of the Southwest Texas Conference in 2013. Legal services began to be offered in 2014 with the hiring of our first attorney and through collaboration with local churches to provide space and volunteers for legal clinics.

We continue to be a United Methodist immigration ministry, as our logo states. While other mainline Protestant denominations are joining in relief efforts to address immediate physical needs for food, clothing, and shelter, and Presbyterians and Lutherans have advocacy agencies similar to the UM Board of Church and Society, the UMC stands apart in its commitment to provide legal services for long-term justice for immigrants and their families through Justice for Our Neighbors.

How many volunteers are involved?30
How many staff members?3
Have you explored opportunities to collaborate with other United Methodist Churches to work toward your mission?*
  • yes
If yes, please describe.

Within the Capital District, we collaborate with St. John's UMC, where we will be moving our offices, as well as First UMC of Austin, University UMC, Tarrytown UMC, Servant Church, Oak Hill UMC, Westlake UMC, and Bethany UMC, primarily for educational presentations and short-term volunteers. By going virtual with our gala as well as congregations engaging in virtual worship and small groups, we have been connecting a bit more with congregations beyond the district, though Wimberley UMC and Goliad First UMC had also welcomed us in worship before the pandemic began. We have pastors throughout the conference who reach out with legal questions and emergency concerns on behalf of neighbors connected to their congregations, which we strive to respond to them with support as able despite a case load at full capacity. We're also blessed by a continuing partnership with the Georgetown MFSA.

Congregational support

Not applicable.

How does your mission fulfill the purpose of the grant you are requesting?

Each component of our mission seeks to relieve human suffering for our immigrant neighbors.

The most obvious, of course, is our work to provide free legal services. Our two main case types are asylum, which is pursued when there is past experience or anticipated persecution and/or torture, and the other is Special Immigrant Juvenile status, which is possible for minors who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both parents. These two case types are based on human suffering. However, besides the nexus of our case work, the psychological and physical effects of uncertain safety, the constant threat of removal to a place of persecution and danger, of family separation is a form of suffering that our clients experience alongside the wider immigrant community. It is also worth noting that Austin Region Justice for Our Neighbors has a higher percentage of cases with LGBTQIA+ clients than other chapters throughout the nation.

Alongside legal services, our mission to work in advocacy and education also seek to relieve human suffering. Legal services provide a family with justice, but laws and rules at the local, state, and federal levels create systemic justice (or injustice). Most recently in the news, the new administration decided to go back on a promise to restore the refugee cap to its historical levels. Already there seems to be political pressure, but the voice of the people to advocate for welcoming refugees will be needed; it was, after all, the voice of the people that helped to end Family Separation as the mandated and universal policy at the border in 2017.

The misinformation and ignorance about the immigration process, immigration numbers, and the state of the border according to non-government agencies who work with immigrants also contributes to a hostile and dangerous environment for our neighbors. This is why we see our work to educate as having evolved from "Know Your Rights" Clinics and ESL courses to educating our congregations and communities at large. Among those who consider themselves sympathetic to immigrants there is still the call to "get in line" without an understanding that many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States are already "in line," having applied for legal status and remain without status while they wait for 2-24 years on average, depending on country of origin and relation to their sponsor. Only about 25-30% of all immigrants (this number drops if you exclude employment-based immigration) have access to legal services to help navigate the complicated legal process.

Human suffering is layered and heavy in the immigrant community; while the suffering at the border is the aspect most reported on, the reality is that suffering does not end once an immigrant neighbor is released from a processing or detention center.

How many individuals will be served by the funds requested?180

Our clients demonstrate that their family income does not exceed 200% of the federal poverty level for their family size.

We do not discriminate or prioritize based on nationality. Our current client roster includes neighbors from near and far - Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Cameroon, Kenya, DRC, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Myanmar.

As mentioned, one of the demographics that distinguishes us from other legal service providers is the percentage of clients who identify as LGBTQIA+.

We believe it is important to also clarify that part of our emphasis on human dignity and justice is to be clear we do not discriminate based on language. We have a significant portion of our clients whose first language is not Spanish but a Central American indigenous language, and so we work to provide interpreters in these languages as it is difficult enough to describe persecution already suffered without having to strive to find the words in a second or third language.

Funding Partner Amount
National JFON (in 2020) $54,100
Tarrytown UMC (in 2020) $16,845
St. John's UMC (in 2020) $3000
Westlake UMC (in 2020) $4850
Servant Church (in 2020) $3099
Rio Texas Annual Conference (in 2020) $6031
University UMC (in 2020) $2535
Georgetown MFSA (in 2020) $3000
Grant history and reporting

Yes, we have received an Action Support Grant before in each year between 2015 and 2020. We have been grateful that these funds have been allowed to be used where most needed rather than designated to particular portion of our work. Immigration legal work is a long-term commitment.

Right now we are celebrating that clients we started working with as minors five or more years ago are finally eligible to adjust status from Special Immigrant Juvenile (a temporary protection) to Lawful Permanent Resident (green card, emphasis on *permanent* status), and we get to help them move forward in their process without subjecting them to another search for help and another round of re-telling their legal history and past traumas. We get to be partners in their process and experience growth and relationship over time together. Of course, we'll continue to advocate for the process to get shorter, too!

One goal we had as an organization was to bring on a full-time Executive Director for sustainability as an organization and for the further development of our advocacy and education work. National JFON provided a grant program to bring an Executive Director on staff in 2019 after examining research that showed organizations with executive staff leadership were more likely to survive and grow. We are now needing to fund that position fully ourselves.

Other Sources of funds Amount
UMW chapters (in 2020); FUMC Denton, Berkeley UMC, Trinity Church, Capital District $625
Community Partners Amount
Grant Family Fund (in 2020) $2000
Pelton Charitable Foundation (in 2020) $1000
Blackbaud Giving Fund (in 2020) $200
Ministry Budget2021-Budget-APPROVED.pdf
Comments or additional information

Please reach out with any concerns about programmatic funding specifics. Because we do not charge or track hours like a private firm does, our budget does not reflect costs in a per-case way. Private immigration attorneys charge between $3000-$5000 to take on an asylum case, with additional costs for expert witnesses, etc. added as appropriate. Additionally, it is difficult to predict how much attention will be given to a particular case area as we are reliant on the government to schedule hearings, sometimes with a lot of notice and sometimes with little notice. For example, we received a briefing deadline for an asylum appeal with 20 days notice. Last year's health concerns delayed many hearings that we had waited on for two or more years, though some were possible virtually. We are beginning to receive new hearing notices, and anticipate travel costs to San Antonio for hearings and delivery of documents and filings for court to go up in the latter half of this year. Not mentioned above, we also work with our asylee and SIJ clients on applications for work permits, work permit renewals, and maintaining up-to-date records with the court by filing change of address documents, all of which take a lot of administrative time. If funding a specific area is desired, we can discuss how it might work to allocate funds to that particular work.

Also regarding the number of volunteers involved, between shifting services away from clinics and pandemic health protocols, our volunteer numbers are significantly reduced in comparison to previous years.