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Immigration Task Force (ITF) Minutes-October 17, 2021

October 26, 2021 Julie Lustic

Attending: Anne, Charity, Gary, Jeff, Julie, Quentin, Sharon, Steve, Virginia

Quentin Smith, as a representative of the FHC Black Caucus, has joined the Task Force with this being his first meeting. Welcome Q, glad you are part of the team!

Leonor and family

On October 16, 2021, Leonor and Jose were married by their home in Akron by Pastor John Lentz. Many from FHC attended the celebration. As a married couple, it will be easier for Jose to attain U.S. citizenship. When Leonor gets her U-Visa, she can then submit papers for her naturalization process. Jose can be included on the application whereby he too can become a U.S. citizen. The procedure is complicated. Letters of support are needed for Jose. The Task Force will submit such a letter.

Based upon their input, the Garcia family continues to receive financial support from the Sanctuary Fund. Jose and Leonor will discuss the use of the Sanctuary Fund and get back to us about this matter.

PCUSA request

Amanda Craft, from the PCUSA immigration office is working on an advent devotional to focus on immigration this year. They want immigration voices to be featured and reached out to Pastor Lentz who passed the request on to the Task Force. The devotional is to be about two and half pages and be based on the lectionary of the day. Jeff and Charity offered to work on this and have it ready by the due date of November 5. 

Tour of the Border

The Task Force had yet another robust discussion about creating a tour of the U.S./Mexico border as part of our efforts to educate the congregation at FHC and other interested persons about the ongoing injustices being perpetrated there and how we can respond effectively. The tour is in cooperation with the Mennonite Central Committee. Funds through the FHC Ministry of Justice and Mission have been pledged for scholarship support for those who wish to participate in a virtual border tour but have limited finances. Sharon and Steve will discuss what to do with the tour and prepare a plan to be presented at the next meeting.

Further task force meetings

The group decided to alternate between meeting in person and on Zoom. The next meeting will be on Wednesday, November 17, at 6:30 p.m. at the Smith’s home.

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Columbus Dispatch Writes about Plight of Asylum Seekers

October 4, 2021 Julie Lustic

Forest Hill Church guests, Issoufou Lembane, Idrissa Kiema, and Emmanuel Sabo, are asylum seekers from Burkina Faso in West Africa. Their asylum cases were denied in January of 2020. They have been living at the church for almost two years while they await their appeals. Read more about their stories in the Columbus Dispatch at the link below.

https://www.dispatch.com/story/news/2021/09/23/asylum-seekers-receive-high-bonds-ohio-immigration-court-ohio-detainees/5788065001/

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Burkina Faso 3 Updates

August 13, 2021 Julie Lustic

Issoufou, Idrissa, and Emmanuel have found many interests to keep them busy this summer.

They have had numerous landscaping jobs with both members and friends of members of Forest Hill Church. With each new job they are gaining confidence in their use of the English language, at least in the area of gardening. They now know about weeds, roots, edging, rototilling, shoveling yards of leaf mulch and soil, turning over beds, trimming bushes and planting. They have tidied up many a garden.

They have also been working hard at learning English. With both morning and afternoon ESL lessons with our dedicated volunteers several times a week, they are able to communicate quite well.

They have also been playing pickup soccer and riding their bikes around town. Here are a few pictures of them hard at work.

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Allied Organizations

August 12, 2021 Julie Lustic

Heights Friends of Immigrants (HFOI)

Heights Friends of Immigrants supports migrants and refugees locally in NE Ohio.  It provides education and takes action on various initiatives in defense and support of our immigrant sisters and brothers. Meetings are held on the first Tuesday evening of each month in rotation at St. Dominic Church, Forest Hill Church Presbyterian, and St. Paschal Baylon Church.

American Making Immigrants Safe (AMIS)

amisohio.org

The mission of AMIS is to inspire hope and contribute to the well-being of immigrants and families as they seek legal status in the United States by assisting with resources for legal services, education, basic living expenses, and self-sufficiency.

HOLA Ohio

holatoday.org

HOLA Ohio is based in Painesville with a mission to improve quality-of-life opportunities and empower the Latino community through outreach, education, civic engagement, entrepreneurship, and skills development.

Catholic Charities Cleveland

ccdocle.org

Catholic Charities Diocese of Cleveland administers over 165 individual programs spanning a wide range of services available to persons from all walks of life across the Diocese of Cleveland.

Cleveland Jobs with Justice

clevelandjwj.org

Cleveland Jobs with Justice is a coalition of labor, faith and community organizations working together to promote workers’ rights in the Cleveland area through collective action.

InterReligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF)

irtfcleveland.org

The InterReligious Task Force on Central America brings together people from various faith and secular communities to act in solidarity with oppressed peoples in southern Mexico, Central America, and Colombia through consciousness-raising and direct consumer and political advocacy to build long-term structural change.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

acluohio.org

The ACLU of Ohio is an affiliate of the national ACLU. Founded in 1920, the national ACLU includes more than 500,000 members in all 50 states, making it our country’s foremost advocate of individual rights.

PCUSA Office of Immigration Issues   

https://oga.pcusa.org/section/mid-council-ministries/immigration/

The Office of Immigration Issues was established by action of the 216th General Assembly (2004) in order to provide legal advice and counsel to mid-councils and congregations regarding immigration issues.  The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has continued to expand the work of the Office by directing the Office to coordinate advocacy and education efforts and create worship materials.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)

https://mcc.org/learn/what/categories/immigration

Mennonite Central Committee in the U.S. helps to educate about immigration issues, advocates for sensible humane immigration laws, works to build peace in communities along the U.S.-Mexico border, and provides documentation services to help immigrants navigate the complex immigration system.

The Advocacy Program of the Latin American and Caribbean (LACA) region of MCC facilities

https://www.mcclaca.org/latin-america-thecaribbean-laca-region/

MCC LACA facilitates contextual analysis, strategic planning for advocacy, organizational strengthening, and strategic connections between partners.  It supports local and national advocacy action with partners and churches in the region, and with churches and constituency in Canada and the United States to address the structural causes of poverty, violence, and injustice.

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Allied Organizations

July 16, 2021 Julie Lustic

InterReligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF)

irtfcleveland.org

The InterReligious Task Force on Central America brings together people from various faith and secular communities to act in solidarity with oppressed peoples in southern Mexico, Central America, and Colombia through consciousness-raising and direct consumer and political advocacy to build long-term structural change.

HOLA Ohio

holatoday.org

HOLA Ohio is based in Painesville with a mission to improve quality-of-life opportunities and empower the Latino community through outreach, education, civic engagement, entrepreneurship, and skills development.

American Making Immigrants Safe (AMIS)

amisohio.org

The mission of AMIS is to inspire hope and contribute to the well-being of immigrants and families as they seek legal status in the United States by assisting with resources for legal services, education, basic living expenses, and self-sufficiency.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

acluohio.org

The ACLU of Ohio is an affiliate of the national ACLU. Founded in 1920, the national ACLU includes more than 500,000 members in all 50 states, making it our country’s foremost advocate of individual rights.

Cleveland Jobs with Justice

clevelandjwj.org

Cleveland Jobs with Justice is a coalition of labor, faith and community organizations working together to promote workers’ rights in the Cleveland area through collective action.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)

https://mcc.org/learn/what/categories/immigration

Mennonite Central Committee in the U.S. helps to educate about immigration issues, advocates for sensible humane immigration laws, works to build peace in communities along the U.S.-Mexico border, and provides documentation services to help immigrants navigate the complex immigration system.

The Advocacy Program of the Latin American and Caribbean (LACA) region of MCC facilities

https://www.mcclaca.org/latin-america-thecaribbean-laca-region/

MCC LACA facilitates contextual analysis, strategic planning for advocacy, organizational strengthening, and strategic connections between partners.  It supports local and national advocacy action with partners and churches in the region, and with churches and constituency in Canada and the United States to address the structural causes of poverty, violence, and injustice.

Heights Friends of Immigrants (HFOI)

Heights Friends of Immigrants supports migrants and refugees locally in NE Ohio.  It provides education and takes action on various initiatives in defense and support of our immigrant sisters and brothers. Meetings are held on the first Tuesday evening of each month in rotation at St. Dominic Church, Forest Hill Church Presbyterian, and St. Paschal Baylon Church.

Catholic Charities Cleveland

ccdocle.org

Catholic Charities Diocese of Cleveland administers over 165 individual programs spanning a wide range of services available to persons from all walks of life across the Diocese of Cleveland.

PCUSA Office of Immigration Issues   

https://oga.pcusa.org/section/mid-council-ministries/immigration/

The Office of Immigration Issues was established by action of the 216th General Assembly (2004) in order to provide legal advice and counsel to mid-councils and congregations regarding immigration issues.  The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has continued to expand the work of the Office by directing the Office to coordinate advocacy and education efforts and create worship materials.

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How We Became A Sanctuary Church

July 13, 2021 Julie Lustic

During the first half of 2017, members of Forest Hill engaged Session and the Trustees around welcoming refugees and supporting non-citizen immigrants who live in our communities.  A dinner was held with US Together, an organization helping refugees.  A meeting was also held with representatives from HOLA Ohio, an organization based in Painesville that helps immigrants facing deportation.  Both Session and the Trustees supported these conversations. 

After these meetings, a two-to-three-month process for the leadership of Forest Hill Church to decide to become a Sanctuary Church and possibly hosting one or more individuals who are facing deportation was proposed.  This was to be part of the August 28 Session meeting agenda.  However, Rev. Lentz received a phone call on August 5 from HOLA relating an immediate need to provide sanctuary for an individual facing deportation.  This required this process to be fast-tracked.  A special Session meeting was called for August 6.

The individual facing deportation was from the Akron area, had been in the U.S. for over 20 years, worked, and paid taxes.  She was a homeowner.  She had no criminal record.  She had four US citizen children, ranging in age from 4 to 20.  Her oldest daughter was studying at Kent State University.  Years before, she had been given an order of deportation after a fraudulent attorney submitted a poorly done application for a green card, the process to begin a path to citizenship.  She was given a stay of removal in 2011, which allowed her to stay and work in this country.  This stay has been renewed annually at her check-ins with immigration.  When she went for her 2017 annual check-in, immigration officials, without warning, put a GPS ankle monitor on her, telling her she needed to leave the country by September.  This news devastated her family and many in the community.  

At the August 6 meeting, Session reviewed what Sanctuary from a biblical, historical, and Presbyterian perspective is.  Sanctuary is an ancient practice of providing refuge in sacred spaces from secular legal action.  There are many scriptural references to provide sanctuary, including Leviticus: “The alien living among you must be treated as one of your native-born” and Matthew: “I was a stranger, and you invited me in.”  In 2016, the PC(USA) General Assembly reaffirmed support for the ministry of sanctuary and the ethical obligations of congregations to defend a family’s integrity when faced with deportation.  The General Assembly called on congregations to provide sanctuary in appropriate circumstances to express the scriptural call to love our neighbor.  

During the Session discussion, the logistics for providing suitable living space and amenities and legal issues were reviewed.  It wasn’t known if the woman threatened with deportation would be staying at the church alone or with all or some of her children.   It was noted if we were to go forward that a good communications plan was needed for the congregation and the groups using the church and the community.  The trustees reported that they had already investigated the location and cost to install a shower.  Since the church has a full kitchen in the wing where the living quarters might be located, the woman could cook for herself, provided groceries were brought to her.  It was discussed that someone would most likely need to stay with the woman at night, as we did for our Family Promise guests.  

Following the lengthy discussion, it was moved that Forest Hill church provide Sanctuary for whatever length of time was needed to work out the woman’s legal status.  The motion was seconded.

Since this was such a significant decision, Reverend Lentz asked for other references that would help us make this momentous decision. Some of those cited included: “Lord prepare me to be a Sanctuary,” “Give me your tired and your poor,” “Let the children come to me.”

After leading all in prayer, Reverend Lentz asked the Elders to vote either “Yes, I believe this is the will of God for FHC to take this action at this time” or “No, this is not part of God’s will for FHC at this time.”

The motion was unanimously approved.

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