United Methodist Church launches major asylum initiative


October 21, 2019 | ATLANTA
Celebrating the Asylum Initiative partnership: Roland Fernandez, executive director and treasurer, UMCOR; Mary Lee Fitzsimmons, Chair, NJFON board of directors; Rob Rutland-Brown, executive director of NJFON; Erol Kekic, senior vice-president, CWS; Jack Amick, director, Global Migration, Global Ministries; and Bishop Thomas Bickerton, New York Annual Conference, chair of UMCOR. Photo: Anthony Trueheart
Celebrating the Asylum Initiative partnership: Roland Fernandez, executive director and treasurer, UMCOR; Mary Lee Fitzsimmons, Chair, NJFON board of directors; Rob Rutland-Brown, executive director of NJFON; Erol Kekic, senior vice-president, CWS; Jack Amick, director, Global Migration, Global Ministries; and Bishop Thomas Bickerton, New York Annual Conference, chair of UMCOR. Photo: Anthony Trueheart 
The United Methodist Committee on Relief, a division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, approved a three-year, $1.8 million pilot project to provide wrap-around services for asylum seekers in three major U.S. cities. Partnering with Church World Service (CWS) and National Justice For Our Neighbors (NJFON), this initiative will provide both resettlement support and legal assistance for those claiming asylum in Houston, New York and Miami.

“Bringing these two long-standing partners together will provide a complete package of services for asylum seekers,” said Rev. Jack Amick, director of Global Migration, UMCOR. NJFON, the UMC network of organizations that provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrants, a wholly-owned subsidiary of UMCOR, will provide the legal assistance component for asylum seekers. Assistance in finding places to live, registering children in school, enrolling in language classes, accessing government programs and other services needed to adjust to a new community will be provided by CWS, which has been resettling refugees in the U.S. for decades.

Erol Kekic, senior vice-president for CWS, noted that “as the current U.S. Administration continues to find ways to limit access to welcome, compassion and access to asylum, it is the American people who stand for protection of those fleeing terror and persecution. Who better than the church to stand up for what is right in times of adversity and trial? At CWS, we are proud of our partnership with the UMC and UMCOR. If it wasn’t for the generosity of our Methodist brothers and sisters, countless individuals and families would have been left to the mercy of the government and the generosity of strangers. With this project, we can reach out, not just to newly released families and individuals seeking legal and other relief, but also to the extended members of their families. This is a true community coming together approach. Thank you UMC and UMCOR.”

Rob Rutland-Brown, executive director of NJFON, added that “this grant will ensure that for some of the most vulnerable asylum seekers fleeing to the U.S., there is still hope for safety here.” The partnership of National Justice For Our Neighbors, Church World Service and UMCOR provides a creative solution for ensuring that migrants receive critical legal representation for their asylum cases as well as a wide range of support services in their new communities. Together, we are sending a message that migrants deserve access to justice, and just as importantly, that they are welcomed and loved.”

The Asylum Pilot Project is also a response to the constrictive U.S. immigration policies and rules that have been put in place in recent years and provides these partners and the church with an opportunity to engage in a new paradigm around migration. With the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program reduced to a fraction of former levels, the program facilitates a shift for CWS from refugee resettlement to asylum seeker resettlement. (The administration has set the FY2020 refugee ceiling at 18,000, compared with previous average levels of 95,000.) For NJFON, this grant affords lawyers the opportunity to assist in more of the often time-consuming, but extremely significant, asylum cases. Because CWS and NJFON engage local churches for support of various types, this program will also challenge churches to get involved in migration locally.

Thomas Kemper, general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, noted that “the church cannot stand by and do nothing as refuge in the United States becomes increasingly difficult. Instead, if the government will not be welcoming, the church must rise to its biblical mandate to ‘welcome the stranger.’”



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