border wall
MCC Photo/Saulo Padilla

Members of Paoli Mennonite Fellowship in Paoli, Ind., pray at the border wall in Douglas, Ariz., during a 2016 MCC Borderlands learning tour.

In the current climate of fear and unrest surrounding immigration, MCC is finding ways to welcome our neighbors in northern Indiana and Chicago.

“I sense a hunger in local congregations for tangible ways to show Christ’s love to immigrants in our communities,” said Eric Kurtz, Executive Director of MCC Great Lakes. “People want to help, and we’re providing ways for them to do that.”

MCC’s newest partnership is with the National Immigration Justice Center (NIJC), an organization out of Chicago providing comprehensive legal services to low-income immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. The partnership comes in the form of a two-year grant from MCC which helps to pay the salary of paralegal Brittany Herschberger at their satellite office in Goshen, Ind.

According to Herschberger, this grant makes it possible for the Goshen office to increase their capacity to help immigrants who are living with increased anxiety and fear. “Through partnering with NIJC, MCC can have a significant impact on the daily lives of immigrants in our community, as well as supporting the larger-scale advocacy and litigation work that could bring about systemic change,” said Herschberger.

In addition to meeting one-on-one with potential clients and helping with their legal cases, NIJC works to educate the local immigrant community through “Know Your Rights” presentations. MCC and NIJC are also working together to give presentations to non-immigrants to help explain the currently reality of our immigration system and the difficulties many immigrants in our communities face.

“My hope for this partnership is that the clients I serve will know that they are not alone.  That although they may be fearful and anxious, there are allies here in our community who stand with them and are supporting them through this MCC grant,” said Herschberger.

This spring, MCC Great Lakes launched another new partnership with the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants (ICDI) to collect kits for people released from a detention center in the Chicago area. These post-detention kits are made up of a backpack containing a jogging suit, t-shirt, socks, underwear and shoelaces plus hygiene products like a washcloth, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, comb, razor, shaving cream, lotion and deodorant. Granola bars and water are added the backpacks before they are distributed. The goal was to collect 100 of these kits, and so far congregations and individuals have already given 75.

According to Jen Sarto, Program Director for the Post-Detention Accompaniment Network at ICDI, the kits mean a great deal to the individuals who receive them. “They are the first personal property that most individuals have owned since arriving in the U.S.,” she said. “Most people arrive with only the clothes on their back and the only thing they get in detention is their stack of immigration papers. The backpack gives them something to use to start carrying items with them again, while the change of clothes are the first new clothes that they have put on outside of jail clothes.”

Lori and Ron Good, who attend Berkey Avenue Mennonite in Goshen and volunteer at the Depot MCC Thrift Shops, were some of the people who put together a kit. “With all the talk about immigration and just hearing about the conditions in some of the detention centers, I felt we had the ability to give at least one kit,” Lori said. “If I were in the same situation, I would appreciate if people who were able to help would do so. As an act of compassion and sharing I felt compelled to respond.”

MCC has also given a one-time grant to LaCasa in Goshen to help with educational classes for people studying to obtain their citizenship.

MCC has been leading immigration learning tours from Great Lakes to the U.S.-Mexico border since 2014 with seven groups participating so far. The goals is to increase understanding of the social, economic, political and theological significance of migration in border communities. Participants meet with Border Patrol agents, visit organizations providing aid to migrants, pray along the border wall and share a meal with migrants.

“What I’ve found is that it’s important for MCC to do this work, because this is a biblical teaching by Jesus,” said Jorge Vielman, Peace & Justice Coordinator for MCC Great Lakes. “Help the poor, welcome the immigrant. If Jesus did it, why don’t we do it as a Christian community?”

Vielman and other staff including Saulo Padilla, MCC U.S. Immigration Education Coordinator, speak with congregations and groups about how to respond to the call to support immigrants. They are also working on developing “know your rights” cards that clearly outline the laws and protections for migrants.

MCC offers sponsorships for Great Lakes constituents to attend the immigration law training held several times a year at the MCC U.S. headquarters in Akron, Pa. This training enables lay people to better understand the complexity and depth of issues with our current immigration system, including a massive backlog of immigration applications.

There have also been several internships through the Goshen office including Julia Schmidt, a student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, who recently completed an internship focused on the sanctuary movement.

Vielman emphasizes the importance of MCC partnering with churches and the community to work together. “This is part of our mission at MCC,” said Vielman. “We’re not doing the whole thing, but we’re doing what we can.”

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