Mar 31, 2022

Justice for Our Neighbors of the Delaware Valley (JFON-DV) has been operating immigration legal clinics for 13 months in three states, handling a growing docket of cases, as it looks for volunteers, especially language interpreters.

The Eastern PA regional office moved April 1 from Historic St. George’s UMC in Philadelphia to Haws Avenue UMC in Norristown, relocating to where a large immigrant community can more easily access its services. Haws Avenue Pastor Lisa DePaz is JFON’s new EPA Regional Council Co-chairperson, along with the Rev. David Eckert. The program also operates and has councils in Greater New Jersey and in Delaware.

“We have given good legal advice to  over 300 people in the past year. Unfortunately some of them have no pathway under current immigration law,” said the Rev. Tom Lank, assistant executive director, who manages the programs’ daily operations. The Rev. Mark Salvacion, an attorney and pastor of Historic St. George’s, led the program’s launch and development over the past few years and continues to handle cases.

“We’ve closed nine cases, and we have 51 cases on our docket,” Lank reported. That includes 36 cases of undocumented persons targeted for removal/deportation.

JFON needs more Spanish-speakers to help with translation

Many are refugees seeking asylum, mostly from Central and South America and Haiti, Lank said. JFON needs more Spanish-speakers to help with translation both on Saturdays, when clinics are held, and during the week for follow-up work with clients.

Rev. Tom Lank

“But now we’re also reaching out to the Brazilian community to find pastors and churches to host clinics,” said Lank, because they are in need of immigration legal assistance. “We’re also partnering with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in the Philadelphia region to connect with Muslim immigrants in need of legal services.  

Since JFON-DV does not charge fees to most of its clients, it relies on support from the sponsoring annual conferences, plus districts, churches and individual donors to cover its costs for running the legal office and paying staff.  Abe Hobson is JFON’s full-time attorney. He is supported by fulltime paralegal John Mitchell and another volunteer attorney and paralegal.

JFON-DV has operated immigration legal clinics at two EPA sites:  Haws Ave UMC in Montgomery County, and Swarthmore UMC in partnership with El Buen Samaritano in West Chester.  New Life UMC in Upper Darby is also considering hosting clinics in the future.  JFON-DV continues to follow up with individual clients but has put a pause on clinics while the organization builds its capacity to help larger number of clients. 

If any church wants to host a clinic, provide volunteers or refer immigrants for affordable legal services, the new JFON-DV phone number is 814-343-3260. Lank, an ordained deacon and former regional coordinator of UM Volunteers in Ministry, is available to talk or preach to churches about the importance of engaging in immigration ministry for justice and mercy through JFON.