GOSHEN, Ind. — In the climate of fear and unrest surrounding immigration, Mennonite Central Committee Great Lakes is welcoming 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 MCC Great Lakes executive director Eric Kurtz. “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, a Chicago organization providing comprehensive legal services to low-income immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. A two-year grant from MCC will help pay the salary of paralegal Brittany Herschberger at the NIJC satellite office in Goshen.
Herschberger said the grant makes it possible for the Goshen office to increase 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,” she said.
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 nonimmigrants to explain the reality of the U.S. immigration system and the difficulties many immigrants 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 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. Granola bars and water are added before backpacks are distributed. The goal was to collect 100 of these kits, and so far congregations and individuals have given 75.
Jen Sarto, program director for ICDI’s Post-Detention Accompaniment Network, said the backpacks are the first personal property that most individuals have owned since arriving in the U.S.
“Most people arrive with only the clothes on their back, and the only thing they get in detention is their stack of immigration papers,” she said. “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 Good 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.
Visiting the border
MCC has been leading immigration learning tours from its Great Lakes region to the U.S.-Mexico border since 2014 with seven groups participating so far. The goal 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 and justice coordinator for MCC Great Lakes.