Austin Region Justice for Our Neighbors

I am applying forBoth
FUNDS WILL BE USED TO:Maintain/expand current ministry
Name of OrganizationAustin Region Justice for Our Neighbors
AddressPO Box 17516
Austin, TX 78760
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Contact PersonElizabeth Wright
TitleExecutive Director
EmailEmail hidden; Javascript is required.
Phone(512) 326-1988
Amount requested15000
Explain connection to The United Methodists Church

The Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) network began under the umbrella of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in 1999 as a response to the recognition that the mercy of relief work must ultimately be paired with the long-term work of justice. Austin Region JFON was founded by a group of laity and clergy of the then-Austin District of the Southwest Texas Conference in 2013 and began offering legal services in 2014.

While other mainline Protestant denominations do relief work and seek 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. The education and advocacy work we seek to do, primarily through congregations and small groups within congregations, aims to create large-scale changes to systems of injustice.

How many volunteers are involved?40
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.

We work with congregations on education and advocacy initiatives, offering workshops on history of U.S. immigration, current dynamics and problems within the immigration system, and the intersection of faith and immigration as well as keeping congregations and individuals aware of current legislation at the state and federal level that affects our immigrant neighbors. This sometimes looks like events scheduled with individual small groups, Sunday School classes, or events open to the whole congregation, preaching in worship.

We also worked with congregations in 2021 to form teams of volunteers to fundraise through an opportunity at Q2 stadium for the inaugural home season of Austin FC.

Congregational support

Congregational supports comprises 15.6% of our revenue through September, according to our most recent financial statements, from 8 different congregations.

30 of our 38 volunteers who worked an Austin FC event to fundraise for JFON came to us through a UMC connection.

We are currently renting office space at an affordable rate and receiving physical support from the congregation and staff at Saint John's UMC in Austin.

Our board of directors is 80% United Methodist in affiliation.

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

For the Juanita Peterson grant, our clients are predominantly women and children whose annual household income is less than 200% of the federal poverty level and are seeking help with the legal process for asylum, which necessitates proving past or feared future persecution and/or torture. In this legal process, we also work to identify minors who can qualify for what is called "Special Immigrant Juvenile" status, which will give them protection faster than the asylum process can; this requires state court hearings before submitting legal documents to U.S. Customs and Immigration Services. We do this work to give protection to women and children who fear for their lives if deported.

Expanding on the above in relation to applying for an Action Support Grant, we are a unique ministry partner in that there is no other United Methodist entity in the Austin area providing immigration legal services and there are no other legal service entities in the Austin area of which we are aware that offers all services to their clients free of legal costs. For this reason, our colleagues in low-cost immigration legal services refer clients to us when they know the potential client would not be able to afford even the minimal legal fees of their agencies.

How many individuals will be served by the funds requested?160

We exclusively represent clients whose household income is under 200% of the federal poverty level.

The majority of our clients are immigrants from Mexico and Central America, with a high concentration of indigenous clients from El Salvador and Guatemala. Clients also come from Cameroon, Kenya, DRC, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Myanmar.

A little over one-half of our clients are under the age of 21; about two-thirds of our adult clients are women.

We serve clients who live in Travis County and its contiguous counties: Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, and Williamson Counties.

Funding Partner Amount
Tarrytown UMC 15,000
First United Methodist Church (Austin) 3,970
Westlake UMC 1,840
Northwest Hills UMC 500
Saint John's UMC 286
Bend UMC 100
Memorial UMC 50
Rio Texas Conference UMW 150
Texas Methodist Foundation 700
Georgetown Methodist Federation for Social Action 1,500
National JFON 10,000
The Barilla Foundation 2,000
Grant history and reporting

Yes, previously we have received an Action Support grant each year from 2015-2020 and a Juanita Peterson grant in 2020 and 2021.

Action Support and Juanita Peterson grants enable us to increase security and stability and help reduce anxiety and fear through sustained legal services to immigrant neighbors. Cases can take years to complete, so committing to a client is a long-term relationship. Support from the district alongside congregational and individual support helps us to reassure our clients that they can count on Justice for Our Neighbors to walk with them all the way to permanent residency (we hope), which is not something our clients take for granted as many have encountered exploitative attorneys and individuals pretending to be lawyers.

In these last months of 2021, we are celebrating quite a bit for our small team:
-successfully sustaining representation for over 160 clients, 60 of whom are in active removal (deportation) proceedings with immigration court
-arguing successfully for the deportation proceedings of 17 clients to be dismissed, meaning these clients can continue to pursue legal status without the threat of deportation hanging over them each day
-41 work permit cases opened in order for clients to have access to safe, legal income
-27 fee waiver applications, successfully fighting to make the immigration system accessible to clients (ex: work permits can cost between $410-$495 and adjustment of status applications to receive a green card and lawful permanent residence can cost between $750-$1225, excluding expenses for required medical exams)
-17 adjustment of status applications submitted to receive lawful permanent residency (green card)
-10 children and young adults, who started their cases with us as minors, received their permanent residency!
-8 children granted the protection of Special Immigrant Juvenile status and 8 state court cases won, laying the groundwork for SIJ status for those clients
-4 DACA clients' status renewed for another 4 years
-1 R-1 religious visa granted, allowing a UM pastor to continue serving the spiritual needs of their congregation and mission field

Other Sources of funds Amount
Corporations 622
Individuals 14,355
Community Partners Amount
Joint Migrant Storytelling Grant with Undocumented Stories via Institute for Diversity and Civic Life and the Henry Luce Foundation $20,000
Ministry Budget2021-Budget-APPROVED-2020.12.10-1.pdf
Supporting Documents
Comments or additional information

This past year, we received a grant from the Institute for Diversity and Civic Life through the generosity of the Henry Luce Foundation. This collaborative grant for $20,000 is in partnership with Undocumented Stories, part of Education Beyond the Walls at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and Dr. Jesse Esparza of Texas Southern University. and centers immigrant voices sharing their experiences.

Our project includes video interviews of 8 immigrants sharing their personal stories of immigration and life in the United States. These personal narratives are available to view individually, and we've also developed a 55 minute compilation highlighting portions of each person's story. In addition to the video content we're working with a publisher on a book including 4 more immigrants sharing their stories and a second part which presents data that reiterates how immigrants contribute, provide, and deserve dignity and justice. The stories humanize the data, and the data moves the stories beyond anecdotal arguments about the life of immigrants. For this reason, the title of both the video and book is "The Truth in Our Stories."

I'm excited to offer these powerful resources, along with a discussion guide, to congregations and small groups in a one-day and four-week format. There's an incarnational element to the immigrant neighbors telling their own stories and something holy following in the footsteps of Jesus about centering their voices. I wanted you to know about this because I believe "The Truth in Our Stories" will be a powerful connection point with congregations.