In 2006, Gregoria Flores fled her home in Honduras. Flores is Garifuna – an ethnic group whose members are descendants of African and indigenous Latin American groups – and her advocacy on behalf of the Garifuna community made her a target for discrimination and violence.
After successfully applying for asylum in the U.S., Flores decided to help other members of her new Garifuna community in New York City do the same. She quickly found the New York Mennonite Immigration Program (NYMIP), a joint ministry of MCC East Coast and the New York City Council of Mennonite Churches that provides immigration legal services to members of Anabaptist churches at minimal fees.
Flores began volunteering with NYMIP as an intake coordinator at Evangelical Garifuna Church, a Lancaster Mennonite Conference congregation in the Bronx. Each week, she helps community members prepare the documentation they need to work with immigration attorneys and paralegals.
NYMIP staff also run immigration legal clinics and provide resources for congregations interested in raising awareness about immigration-related issues. The program began in 1998 by serving clients from Liberia and Sierra Leone who were fleeing violence in their home countries. Today, many participants are from Central America.
Last year, Flores completed a 40-hour immigration law training organized by MCC U.S. in Akron, Pa. MCC has provided this training for the past 14 years to help staff and volunteers from churches and non-profits take the first step toward completing a rigorous immigration legal services accreditation process.
Flores’s goal is to help as many of her community members as possible gain legal immigration status. “Who knows – maybe some will choose to turn around and help others, like I’m trying to,” she said.