Henry remembers nothing of Guatemala; he was just a baby when they left for the United States. Nor does he remember his biological father, who forced Henry’s teenaged mother to make the trip north and then abandoned them both in a strange country.
What Henry does remember, however, is his mother working—at farms, nurseries, factories—any place that would hire a Mayan-speaking young mother with minimal Spanish and no English. Henry’s earliest memories are of being left behind—at a neighbor’s house or a friend’s apartment—while his mother worked yet another extra night shift.
“I had to grow up with other people instead of her,” Henry says. “I don’t blame her because she did what she had to do. And any money she had, she would spend on me. She just wanted to give me everything.”
Chief among the things she wanted to give him was an education. “Look at me, look at how I am,” she would tell him. “You don’t want to be like me. You need to be better.”
And then the coronavirus descended upon the shelters.
“Many asylum seekers went home,” says AZ JFON Executive Director Alba Jaramillo. "Many of the shelters closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Asylum seekers who could not afford hotels were forced to live on the streets.
La Casa, as residents call their temporary home,is located in a former school, where families can have their own room in the dormitories.
Staff members follow strict CDC guidelines, including social distancing, frequent temperature checks, and a two-week quarantine for any new arrivals.
These are families—and children—who need our help.
"I haven’t seen anyone at the shelter who isn’t fleeing persecution," says Alba. The story below is just one example of many:
The young man was scared and very nervous. But the threats and beatings from the cartel that controlled his small Mexican town were growing more violent every day. He knew it was just a matter of time before they made good their promise to kill him, like they had several of his family members.
So he went to the police station. He didn't know what else to do.
For a long moment, the police officer didn't do anything but stare at him from across his desk. And then he shook his head.
“I’m going to do you a favor,” the officer said slowly, “and not tell anyone you spoke with me. And then I’m going to do you another favor and tell you to not make a report. Do that, and you will be killed. Now leave here and don’t come back.”
If you're a voter or have ever visited a polling location, then you have undoubtedly seen for yourself that most poll workers are older adults. In fact, a full 58% of them are over 60 years of age, making them vulnerable to a higher risk of complications due to COVID-19. Many seasoned poll workers will be unable to serve this year, and election experts fear a massive shortage in November.
Now is the time for the younger generation, those who are not medically compromised, and especially those who speak a language other than English, to step up to ensure a safe, fair, and orderly election for ALL voters.
Yes, we are looking at YOU. Or maybe your adult children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, friends or neighbors.
Be aware that each jurisdiction or locality (your city or county) will have its own rules about who can serve—in some states, green card holders are eligible, for example. Jurisdictions also vary on the amount of training required, whether they offer a stipend, and the hours the polls are open.
We're proud of our JFON staff members who volunteer at the polls. I happen to be one of them! I have been an election officer since 2008, working every year for the primaries, general elections and also during our early voting period. In Virginia, we have our federal elections in the even-numbered years and our state elections in the odd-numbered years. So, yes, I have been through many, many elections.
This November, I'll be at my usual polling location—it's an area heavily populated with new American voters and people too often disenfranchised for one reason or another.
Not on my watch! My job is to make sure that everyone who is eligible to vote is able to vote. Here I am pictured providing curbside assistance to a 100-year-old voter. That was a good day.
I wish you could see the joy on the faces of new U.S. citizens voting for the first time. We (okay, it was me) have established our own tradition: we ring a bell for them, offer them a piece of candy—it's only for the first-timers, so hands off!—and then we, and everybody in the polling place, give these new voters a round of applause.
Yes, it is the most awesome, feel-good experience you can imagine. But then, I confess that I am a voting geek and a total sucker for the exercise of democracy.
See you at the polls!
Laura Sonnenmark NJFON Communications Manager
This month, we are celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment with a series on our social media platforms highlighting suffragist leaders from immigrant and marginalized communities.
In this photo, dated 1935, New York City, we see a group of Yiddish-speaking immigrant women enjoying the hard-won victories of this earlier generation as they register to vote for the first time.
We rely on the financial commitments of congregations, organizations, and individuals. We appreciate and welcome your support of this ministry. To make a financial contribution, go to the Donationpage on our website. You may also send contributions to: New England Justice for Our Neighbors, Belmont-Watertown UMC c/o Jocelyn Milton, 421 Common St, Belmont, MA 02478. Thank you for your ongoing support.