The Mural Bringing Us Together as #OneBaltimore – Through Courageous Eyes

Courageous-Eyes-WebBanner-2This blog series usually features the creative work of migrant and refugee artists. However, the underlying hope is to share stories of courage and to support the work of building just and welcoming communities. As a Baltimore-based organization, we’d like to highlight the struggles that our own community has recently gone through to become more just and welcoming. Today, we feature a street artist and his mural, which represents the courageous activists who are working and have worked to make America equal for all.

The Through Courageous Eyes blog series features migrant and refugee artists and is curated by Cecilia Pessoa, LIRS Communications Associate.

Nether1Last week I visited the intersection where a Baltimore-based street artist known as Nether is working on a mural in memory of Freddie Gray, the young man who was injured and died in police custody last month. Alongside neighbors and others who came to see the mural, I watched Nether work on various details in the painting – touching up Gray’s chin and shading the historical faces.


Originally, the people in the mural were going to be in black and white, but Nether said he painted Grey’s face in color because he “wanted Freddie to stand out.” The portrait, with slightly furrowed brow and probing eyes, certainly stands out.

In person, the mural is considerable, taking up the entire side of a two-story row home at the intersection of N Mount Street and Presbury Street. Nether chose the location because it is where Freddie Gray was arrested on April 12th.


The mural has three sections, the portrait of Freddie Gray in the center, flanked by marching protestors on either side. Historical figures on the left include Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others who were at the Selma voting rights march during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, according to the artist. On the section to the right of Freddie Gray, Nether said, are his family and friends.

One woman using her phone to take a photo remarked on how “realistic and thoughtful” the mural was. Others left flowers, balloons, and even a flag at the intersection and below the painted mural.


The project has brought together various people of the community. I met a neighbor who shared her appreciation of the mural with me and gave Nether food and water while he worked. A photo on the artist’s Instagram page shows a boy holding a paint roller who helped out one afternoon.

On his Instagram page, Nether says his work on the mural, “has been one of the realest experiences of my life” and thanks the local community for their support of the project.

Find all the previous posts in the Through Courageous Eyes series.

Through Courageous Eyes features the artistic work of refugees and migrants. If you would like to showcase your artwork as part of the Through Courageous Eyes series, please contact Cecilia Pessoa at

Banner photo credit: Johanan Ottensooser

Deferred Action Still Delayed – Top Picks of the Immigration and Refugee Blogosphere

image (4)This week was to mark the hope-filled beginning of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program, which has been delayed by a lawsuit. Instead, we continue to advocate for families who face uncertainty and children who face the possibility of painful separation from their parents. 

Please email me or comment if you have any thoughts about this week’s Top Picks. Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog, and I look forward to sharing the best online commentary on immigration and refugee issues.

Photo Credit: Lea Shariff

‘I Like the Idea that My Country Can Be a Refuge’ — A Volunteer’s Perspective on Welcome


Newly arrived refugees learn to how to ride public transportation in their new city.
Refugees learn to how to ride public transportation in their new city.

Community members and volunteers are the heart of our work. From furnishing apartments to teaching English, they introduce newcomers to the American way of life. The welcome communities provide is crucial to how quickly refugees can rebuild their lives. Today, I’d like to share a guest post featuring one of these open and dedicated volunteers, Dana Wilson, from Dallas, Texas.

This guest post is written by LIRS Program Coordinator, Laura Griffin:

Some people are natural hosts. Dana Wilson, a star volunteer at Refugee Service of Texas (RST), an LIRS partner in Dallas, TX, is one of those people. I met with her to discuss her volunteer work while I was traveling in Texas recently, and she was eager not only to talk about her compassion for refugees, but also to orient me to the city.

Dana takes the same warmhearted approach to hospitality when welcoming refugees. Over the last 10 years she’s volunteered with new Americans in a range of capacities. She now works with Refugee Services of Texas to set up homes for newly arriving refugees.

When refugees first step off the plane in the United States, volunteers and partner staff at agencies like RST meet them at the airport and take them to a new apartment that has already been set up with furniture and other necessities. Volunteers like Dana play a key role in ensuring a smooth arrival for refugees by furnishing the apartment.

Dana starts this task with an empty apartment and a list of items to collect. RST moves the heavier furniture in and provides Dana with a gift card to a local department store to buy the remaining essentials. She furnishes the apartment and then adds finishing touches like making the beds and stocking the fridge to welcome the arriving family.

‘It’s sweet to think about what it’s like for the refugees when the first walk into their new apartment,’ shares Dana. Refugees arrive at the airport exhausted and anxious about their new lives in America. During those first overwhelming 24 hours, in which everything is brand new, Dana hopes refugee families will take comfort in the small touches that shows her care and concern.

‘I like the idea that my country can be a refuge,’ Dana told me. ‘Nobody dreams of raising their children in a war zone…I’m  glad that we can welcome those refugees to the United States.’

Volunteers are an essential part of a that welcome.

To explore the range of volunteer opportunities across the country, email Laura Griffin at If you would like to grow your volunteer program, or are a volunteer manager, check out LIRS’s Volunteer Manager’s Toolkit, which has a host of helpful resources.

HEADLINES: Immigration – May 20, 2015

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Immigration advocates continue to remain hopeful that the Obama Administration will implement policies that end family detention and create reforms and positive change that better support individuals seeking asylumVisit our blog for HEADLINES: Immigration. I’ll bring you all the most important and up-to-date news on the immigration debate.

Immigration court backlog grows past 450,000 [Washington Post]

Administration Struggling With What To Do About Families In Detention [New Hampshire Public Radio]

African Immigrants: Highly Educated and Underemployed in America [The Root]

Reporter Documents U.S. Immigration Policy Results [Public News Service]

Business, agriculture groups call for immigration solutions from GOP [The Colorado Statesman]

Photo Credit: Lauren Hammond

‘It is Painful, When You are Forced to Leave Your Home’ — LIRS Academy Participant and Advocate for Refugees Shares Her Story

Aline Binyungu Nzigire
Aline Binyungu Nzigire

 Aline Binyungu Nzigire, a former refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and current resident of Providence, Rhode Island, will be a participant in LIRS’s 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy. She is the founder of the non-profit organization Women Refugee Care (WRC) providing assistance in the DRC and Rhode Island. In today’s blog post, she shares her courageous journey as an advocate for women’s and children’s rights.

 Aline Binyungu Nzigire writes:

I was born in a country where the custom prevails against rights. I witnessed firsthand how much women and children were discriminated against. I was raised in the environment where a girl going to school was a luxury. I made a personal vow: if I become educated and get a chance, I will defend women’s and children’s rights.

Numerous years of ongoing conflict in eastern DRC have taken a tremendous toll on women. For 20 years, the DRC has been the scene of a conflict characterized by violence of unprecedented scale and brutality. All fighters use violence as a weapon of war to enslave the victims and terrorize the population.

In the DRC, I worked in legal and education sectors. I had to fight with the government and the army in spite of armed groups perpetrating rape with impunity. I worked with churches and local communities to raise awareness against the evil. I broadcasted on the radio to warn all those who commit abuse against women and deprived girls of their rights.

In December 2007, a group of women were coming back from the market to their village; they met a battalion of military who arrested and searched them, took everything they were bringing back from the market, and then they raped them. Among them was a 12 year old girl. I received the news the next day and I brought the victims to the hospital so that they received the proper care. In the meantime, I made inquiries to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. Unfortunately, I began to receive anonymous phone calls and messages forbidding me to pursue the matter, under pain of death.

Armed men came to my house for the first time. They shot bullets at my house. I was tortured, and threatened with death if I testified at the trial. I did not quit and I testified at court so that justice could prevail. They came back for the second time; it was very horrible and our lives were almost ended. I had a crucial moment of torture and violence that I cannot describe here. After the attackers left, I made the decision to leave because I feared they would come back. They returned one hour later. They burned my house, the organization’s vehicles, and the office.

So, I began a long journey that took me and my family 10 days walking on foot, only at night, to the border of neighboring Rwanda. I crossed the border by paying bribes and I took the bus to the Rwandan capital, Kigali, where I spent two nights before continuing to the Ugandan capital, Kampala. I left for Bangkok in April 2008 with my husband and my five children. I spent almost five and a half years in Bangkok seeking asylum with the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) where I continued to stand up to advocate for refugee rights. It is painful, when you are forced to leave your home, your land, your country by force and under threat of death. The journey is hard and the transition is full of trauma.

I just arrived in the United States at 42 years old with my husband and six children in January 2014 and I couldn’t close my hands, but continue to advocate for refugees. Participating in the Academy is a great opportunity for me to share my story and raise awareness about refugees and immigrants. Refugees are resettled in the Unites States but many don’t know exactly what a refugee’s life is like back in the camps and how much it affected them. I will ask my legislators to be mindful to the concern of refugees and support their integration into American life as quickly as possible.

I expect to bring experience back from the Academy that will help my community. In the future, I aim to build a strong network of advocacy for refugees and immigrants, which will help us stay connected and exchange experiences. Refugees need more support and mentoring for their adjustment in United States.

I am a former refugee but I remain a refugee.

HEADLINES: Immigration – May 13, 2015

image (2)Many migrants in the United States are currently experiencing uncertainties as they face the possibility of deportation. Those eligible for deferred action through the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability  (DAPA) programs wait in limbo. Additionally, mothers and children in family immigration detention centers face uncertainties while their futures are decided in court systems that they often do not understand and, yet, must face alone. Their stories and situations are brought to light in the articles collected below.

Visit our blog for HEADLINES: Immigration. I’ll bring you all the most important and up-to-date news on the immigration debate.

Thousands of Young Immigrants in Limbo, Losing Work Permits [Valley Public Radio]

If Migrant Kids Leave Detention, Moms Would Stay Behind, Justice Dept. Says [Star Telegram]

Scathing Report Calls for End to Immigrant Detentions [Catholic News Service]

Grijalva, House Dems Demand Review of ICE Deportation Policies [Tuscon Sentinel]

Immigration News Today: Number of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children Entering US Declining [Latin Post]

Photo Credit: kevint3141

LIRS and Other Advocacy Groups Launch the ONWARD Project

Onward600When advocacy groups across the nation come together and stand for justice, we accomplish so much more together than we can alone.

I’m proud to announce that LIRS, Sojourners, Active Voice, Welcoming America, and the MacArthur Foundation have come together to create the ONWARD project. ONWARD is a story and data project to help faith-based leaders engage their communities around one of the most pressing issues today: migration. ONWARD will offer films, messaging and framing, resources, stories, and more to help advance discourse on this pertinent issue.

This Friday, Fabio Lomelino, Community Education Facilitator at LIRS; Sahar Driver, Program Director, Active Voice; and Ellen Gallagher, Director of Nonprofit Programs, Welcoming America will come together to premiere the ONWARD Project in a public webinar. The webinar will show how ONWARD advances immigration discourse in communities, work, and churches.

Date: Friday, May 15th
Time: 2p.m. – 2:45p.m. EDT

Register for the ONWARD webinar here.

LIRS Academy Taught Me There Are More People in This Fight for a Better Tomorrow — Interview with Academy Graduate Joseph Lewis

Joseph Lewis, former refugee from Liberia, and Washington, D.C. police officer.
Joseph Lewis, former refugee from Liberia, and Washington, D.C. police officer.

Joseph Lewis, a former refugee from Liberia, 2014 LIRS World Refugee Day Academy participant and Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Transit Police Department, is a strong voice for perseverance and hope among vulnerable populations in Washington, D.C. After fleeing a civil war in his home country and overcoming a challenging new beginning as a resettled refugee in the United States, Joseph built a new life for himself with the helping hand of a Lutheran pastor and church members. Today, Joseph is a leader in his community mentoring inner-city youth, telling his story in local schools and helping the homeless. Joseph will be a leader in this year’s Academy.

This interview was conducted over email by LIRS Outreach Assistant, Janelle Fenyes.

Janelle Fenyes (JF): What is your background?

Joseph Lewis (JL): I was born and raised in Liberia, migrated to the Ivory Coast for refuge, and lived nine tormenting years there experiencing the edge of not knowing what the future holds, while wondering daily why I had to endure such struggle. With that said, I truly appreciate my experience because it has taught me to appreciate life and accomplishment.

As a community leader, my goal is to help refugees understand that there is hope in striving for the best. Of course, this has a direct relation to my personal experience as a person who was once homeless to a person who finds appreciation at every opportunity. In short, my message to my community is as such: in striving we honor sacrifice.

JF: You have demonstrated a strong commitment to investing in youth in your community. What inspires and motivates you?

JL: This is an interesting question because it addresses my dualism in a sense that I am both practical and spiritual. First, I believe that the greatest discovery anyone can make is discovering who he or she is, in terms of potential. That has been the main idea that has inspired me over the years because every youth and young adult needs to discover who they are and their potential. I guess that will be the practical aspect of it; but the spiritual aspect which motivates me can be attributed to the fact that each one of us is the spoken word of God. The Bible says that during creation, He spoke and things came into existence; so I believe that God spoke every man and woman into existence with a purpose. It is that purpose that motivates me because I believe my life experience can definitely help someone rise beyond their confines and presumed limitations.

JF: How have the Lutheran church and church members influenced your life?

JL: In my opinion, what the Lutheran church does is an epitome of the true meaning of humanity. Many folks within the Lutheran church have dedicated their lives to helping people who cannot help themselves. I have always asked this question: who are we if we do not stand for something? I guess the Lutheran church has not only answered the question, but has demonstrated what sacrifice is all about. When addressing your first question, I mentioned my message to youth, which says, in striving we honor sacrifice; for me, the Lutheran church has influenced me throughout the years by its sacrifice and dedication to changing lives.

JF: What was your impression of the 2014 LIRS World Refugee Day Academy and how has the experience influenced your work as a leader in your community?

JL: When dealing with your community, it is easy to assume that you are a lone soldier striving for the best. However, my connection with LIRS, especially the 2014 Academy, was an eye opener. During that training, I learned that there are more people in this fight for a better tomorrow. After listening to some of the personal stories shared with other attendees, I was touched and ebullient to strive for the best, even in the face of disappointment, one which impacts many motivated and passionate refugees.

JF: What advice would you give to new refugees to make their resettlement experience more uplifting?

JL: This one is very important to me because I love to share my advice with everyone. However, since you have limited to it to refugees, I will limit my answer to two aspects, perseverance and hope. Perseverance, for me, entails striving for a better opportunity. This means refugees will have to be humble, and pursue formal education if they need to succeed. Some refugees get discouraged because they are not able to work in a career path they once worked because of limitations established by the American system, while some have to return to school and acquire more accreditation, but the goal and mindset of each refugee should be the willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve their dream. So my advice to my fellow refugees is do not lose the hope you once had and persevere until you reach that goal; for, it is in striving we honor the sacrifice of those who believe in us!

The 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy will be held from June 16-18. This will be the third annual Academy for LIRS, one that marks an important expansion to include migrant leaders for the first time. Migrant and refugee leaders will have the opportunity to come together to share experiences, connect and hone the skills necessary to co-advocate on issues of importance to both communities. Stay tuned for stories from this year’s participants.

This Mother’s Day, Stand With Mothers and Children in Detention

EndFamilyDetentionBabyThis Mother’s Day, hundreds of mothers who fled Central America with their children will spend the day locked in a family detention facility in the United States.

In the past year our nation’s capacity for detaining mothers and children in jail-like facilities has grown exponentially. Despite the harm caused by detaining children and trauma survivors, some mothers and children have now been held for several months. For example, Melida and her 4-year old daughter Estrella have been held in the Karnes family detention facility for 8 months, almost 20% of Estrella’s entire life.

While the inhumane practice of family detention continues, the momentum to end it grows as well. Last month, hundreds of people of faith delved further into this issue and urged their Members of Congress to end the practice during Ecumenical Advocacy Days. And lawmakers are listening.

Senators are now publicly questioning the practice of detaining mothers and children. In the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Senators Franken (D-MN) and Blumenthal (D-CT) asked DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson about the inhumanity and expense of this practice. In a separate hearing, Senator Shaheen (D-RI) questioned Sec. Johnson about issues including the recent hunger strike at the Karnes, TX facility. Sec. Johnson responded that he is “constantly evaluating” the policy, a welcome change from his previous statements.

Additionally, courts are increasingly ruling against the practice of family detention. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that these families cannot be detained to deter other families from coming to the United States. A judge in California is expected to rule soon that the detention of children in family facilities in Texas violates an existing settlement agreement governing children in government custody.

It’s clear the momentum to end family detention is growing. Hundreds of people gathered at the facilities in Dilley, Texas and Berks, Pennsylvania on Saturday to protest. People of faith gathered on the same day outside the White House. To continue this momentum, we need your voice. Here are a few ways you can strengthen the movement:

  • Send a message to your Members of Congress
  • Check out the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s Mother’s Day Toolkit for faith resources
  • Support the San Antonio Interfaith Welcome Coalition’s (IWC) backpack drive to provide supplies for mothers and children released from detention and dropped off at the local Greyhound station. These families spend 2-4 days on a bus to reach their loved ones around the country, most lack money and all need basic supplies.
    • Sign a petition to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldaña
    • Participate in the #EndFamilyDetention social media Thunderclap on Mother’s Day

We are told in Hebrews 13:2-3:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Let us take this admonition to heart now.

Thank you for remembering the families in detention this Mother’s Day. Together we can deliver their freedom.

Mother’s Day and May Day – Top Picks of the Immigration and Refugee Blogosphere

Hillary ClintonWith Mother’s Day on the horizon, family immigration detention practices are at the forefront and being critiqued from all angles. People from across the country have protested the incarceration of mothers and children. Even former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, expressed her concerns about the detention of children and vulnerable migrants.

Please email me or comment if you have any thoughts about this week’s Top Picks. Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog, and I look forward to sharing the best online commentary on immigration and refugee issues.

Photo Credit: US Embassy