LIRS Seeks Nominations for Our 2016 Board of Directors and Committees

LIRS board members discuss LIRS's mission and vision.

LIRS Board members Wilmot Collins, Melissa Graves, and Judith Benke, discuss LIRS’s mission and vision.

I’m pleased to announce that the LIRS Governance Committee is beginning to recruit for our 2016 Board.

We are seeking new members who have a passion for creating just and welcoming communities, those who feel called to ensure that all migrants and refugees are protected, embraced, and empowered. We seek new members who believe that newcomers transform American communities.

The LIRS Board is responsible for setting our mission goals and ensuring we have the resources, leadership, and oversight necessary to carry it out. A leadership team composed of the president and vice presidents guides the organization. We work towards achieving our objectives with integrity, courage, and fiscal responsibility. We encourage all to apply, including former refugees, immigrants, and Lutherans. Information about current board members can be viewed at the LIRS Leadership page.

In particular, we encourage those to apply who have:

  • Substantial expertise and access to networks and communities
  • Large corporations and private sector networks
  • Fundraising and access to resources (foundation, corporations, individuals, personal)
  • Church or church-related agency leadership

And those who are:

  • Personally connected to the LIRS mission
  • Between the ages of 18 and 40

The deadline for nominations is May 29, 2015. Please feel free to share this information with anyone in your network who meets the above criteria.

Click here for the official Call for Nominations form.

Click here to download the Board of Directors and Committee Nomination Information form.

LIRS Academy Graduates Co-found Non-profit to Serve Refugees

Cenras logo600LIRS World Refugee Day Academy graduates Claudette Nshimiyimana, from Rwanda, and Omar Bah, from The Gambia, along with Jeannette Ayinkamiye, co-founded the Center for Refugee Advocacy and Support (CenRAS). CenRAS offers critical and comprehensive services to refugees, including after-school programs, domestic violence intervention, and youth mentoring. In this blog, Claudette describes the challenges refugees face and how CenRAS helps them overcome these challenges.

For the first time, this year’s event has expanded to include migrant leaders. To apply for the 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy, visit Application deadline is April 14

Claudette writes:

Working to improve the resettlement process and lives of refugees in Rhode Island is very rewarding work which I do with passion. As a former refugee, I started advocating for the course of refugees since my arrival about eight years ago. I was young, spoke English, and yet was faced with overwhelming challenges. I thought other refugees who had no job skills, English language skills, and were battling with past extreme traumas compounded with new stressors such as economic and acculturation issues, needed someone to always stand for them.

There was this issue of lead poisoning that was ravaging children in refugee households in Rhode Island. I partnered with fellow refugee community leaders and other interested parties who fought (and are still fighting) for improved housing and resettlement standards of refugees within the state. This and many other concerns led us to establish CenRAS as a community-based organization (501c3) in Rhode Island. Founded by refugees for the empowerment of fellow refugees, CenRAS creates opportunities within the refugee community for an improved refugee resettlement process and increased presence in the broader Rhode Island community. We train refugees to speak for themselves on issues affecting their lives, making their voices heard, and their diverse needs met at policy decision-making levels.

CenRAS is a community center where refugees meet and receive services and training as well as a location of cultural enhancement and exchange within the refugee community. In addition to all the advocacy we do on behalf of refugees, CenRAS has four distinct programs that we are currently operating in Rhode Island:

After-school Program: For four years, CenRAS has consistently organized after-school programs for refugee children. The purpose of the after-school program is to foster accelerated educational development for refugee children as a means of bridging the learning gap that exists from refugee camps to American school systems. The biggest challenge of refugee children upon arrival in the United States is the gap in education. Most refugee children do not have basic education and therefore experience difficulties adjusting to the level of their peers despite being placed in the same classes as children of the same ages. CenRAS has successfully run after-school programs through the support of volunteers and partners such as the Providence After School Alliance (PASA) and Moses Brown School. Our efforts have registered marked improvement in the progress level of refugee children at school.

Domestic Violence Intervention: In the beginning of 2015, CenRAS launched a flagship program, Keeping Families Together. This program is run in partnership with the RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sojourner House, and funding from the office of the State Refugee Coordinator at the Rhode Island Department of Human Services. CenRAS has successfully trained and certified 20 refugee community leaders with specific focus on topics on various forms of domestic violence, sexual abuse, stigma, cultural nuances, resources, and possible solutions including referrals.

Community Health Workers: Through the Vida Sana Partnership with the Clinica Esperanza/Hope Clinic, CenRAS engages refugees from the following countries: Bhutan/Nepal, Burundi, Burma (Myanmar), Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia/Senegal, Iraq, Liberia, and Rwanda. Data supplied by the State Refugee Coordinator shows that providing healthcare access, education, and related services to refugees from these countries accounts for approximately 75% of the refugees being resettled in Rhode Island. Community leaders from these countries are identified to engage in training and subsequent healthcare related services in their national and cultural communities.

Refugee Youth Mentoring: Despite the successes in many other areas, CenRAS has realized that major challenges continue to confront the refugee population in the state of Rhode Island, especially the youth. Therefore, CenRAS operates a mentoring program of refugee youth. Because the after-school programs that CenRAS runs serve mostly younger children and children in their early teens, the organization deems it necessary to implement a program that primarily targets adolescents in their late teens or early twenties. The youth mentoring program includes comprehensive awareness regarding life choices such as smoking, sexually transmitted diseases, dietary and weight related issues, crime prevention, and college readiness. The nature of the program includes the invitation of guest speakers, volunteer trainers on specific topics, community services through visits to families in need of help, visits to important places such as hospitals and community colleges, and agencies where they are inspired with new skills and ambitions. Part of the program activities also include activities on college preparedness for these youth by filling out college application forms and financial aid application.

We are proud to walk alongside CenRAS.

Panoramics, Protections, and Prison — Top Picks of the Immigration and Refugee Blogosphere

Photo Credit: messycupcakes

Nationwide debates about protection for children in detention centers and deportations of potential Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) applicants continue. So do the difficulties faced by refugees worldwide as well as those who are adjusting to new beginnings in the United States.

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: messycupcakes

HEADLINES: Immigration — March 25, 2015

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As Congress pushes to detain migrants and tear families apart, people from all walks of life—religious leaders, attorneys, immigrants, police officers—are stepping up to protect and welcome newcomers. There are setbacks and yet, there is always hope where people join together to foster welcoming communities. Visit our blog for HEADLINES: Immigration. I’ll bring you all the most important and up-to-date news on the immigration debate.


In NY, Volunteer Attorneys Lend Voice, Legal Help, To Border Kids [NBC News]

ICE Opens 400-Bed Immigrant Detention Center Near Bakersfield [Los Angeles Times]

Religious Leaders Seek Relief For Immigrants Living In Churches To Avoid Deportation [Huffington Post]

Immigrant Helps Others Adjust to New Life in Nashville [Chron]

Five Years After SB 1070, Arizona Immigrants Defy Climate of Intimidation [Al Jazeera America]

Police Departments Hiring Immigrants as Officers [USA Today]

Photo credit: Jason and Tina Coleman

Congress Pushes to Detain, Prosecute, and Deport Vulnerable Migrants

BarbedWire600As Congress continues to hold multiple hearings and introduce numerous bills on immigration, one recurring theme has emerged: over-reliance on immigration enforcement. Unfortunately, the atmosphere around immigration in the House and the Senate has focused on changing existing laws in a way that removes critical protections for vulnerable migrants and newcomers seeking refuge.

This continuing “enforcement-only” attitude in Congress began with the multitude of hearings last week and continues with three hearings this week. Instead of protecting vulnerable migrants seeking refuge and protection in the United States or creating an immigration system that reunites families, we see a push to detain, prosecute, and deport more and more refugees and migrants, often without due process.

Main points from last week’s immigration hearings in the House and Senate:

In addition to these hearings, the House Judiciary Committee passed four bills out of committee and on to the full House of Representatives that decrease protections for children and asylum-seekers and massively increase interior enforcement through detention and deportation. Check back to our blog for updates on the progress of these bills.

This week we will see another series of hearings in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the issue of border security, including topics such as root causes of Central American migration and addressing future flows of migrants across the border.

The use of enforcement in our current broken immigration system hurts millions of families, children, and asylum-seekers.

Please visit our Action Center  to send a message to your Member of Congress urging them to support vulnerable populations, provide due process for all newcomers, and ensure humane enforcement that protects communities rather than tears them apart.

Photo Credit: Nicola Jones

‘We See Christian Community as Persistent Openness to All’ — Interview with Pastor John Kidd

Pastor Kidd of Augustana Lutheran Church with members of the congregation.

Pastor Kidd of Augustana Lutheran Church with members of the congregation.

Today, I’d like to highlight a church that has made equality for all people its core mission. In 1954, Augustana Lutheran Church was one of the first churches in Washington, D.C. to racially integrate. Having adopted an “open door” philosophy, in the 1970s Augustana began to welcome newly arriving Latinos, which blossomed into an ongoing commitment. In the late 1980s Augustana kept its doors open to those most affected by the HIV-AIDS crisis.

LIRS Outreach Intern, Juliet Sohns, conducted an interview with Senior Pastor John S. Kidd about the welcome the church has provided for decades.  

Juliet Sohns (JS): How has the church continued to be a leading example for social justice activism?

Pastor John S. Kidd (JK): Augustana is an inter-relational congregation. Over the past 60 years, the congregation has consciously made decisions to open its doors and repeatedly affirmed the core value of welcoming everyone. Through the years, “welcoming” became internalized and evolved into an interpersonal culture that takes pleasure in diversity. As relationships have formed, cross-over support and resources, often on a person-to-person basis, becomes common.

With Latino and other immigrants in the congregation, this may take the regular forms of a Sunday community where one feels welcome, included, and safe. At key moments in a person’s life, the caring may take the form of legal advice; assistance in meeting government requirements, or accompaniment of individuals as they navigate health care, court, or school procedures; English as a Second Language support; help with food, rent, or other tangible needs. While the pastor does some of this, the more important role is one of connecting people to each other and facilitating their stepping up and caring whether by providing a meal or joining a march.

Augustana is a small- to medium-sized congregation. Its people do not pretend to fix problems but they consistently offer help and companionship. At times, this commitment to vibrant relationships among diverse people has been at odds with the dominant cultures of the larger society and church. But the congregation’s understanding of Christian community is one of persistent openness to all, responsiveness to everyone, and walking with one another as best as one can.

At Augustana, we have not used the term “social justice activism.” I think we are simply people committed to maintaining relationships in which we do what we can to help one another overcome life’s personal challenges and systemic inequities. These relationships embrace a broad and diverse range of people and lead people to do and say a variety of things in a variety of ways.

JS: You have demonstrated a strong commitment to ministering to immigrants in your community. What inspires and motivates you in that ministry?

JK: Diversity feeds me and makes me feel more whole than homogeneity does. Relationships with immigrants connect me to a world of experience, languages, situations, problems, opportunities, and riches. I can only encounter wholeness when I step away from those who are just like me and whose lives are just like mine. I more effectively engage with the world by speaking and singing in Spanish as well as English and by slowly reading my way through other languages. There are days when I pause to look around me, see the diversity before me and think I have caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of God as God intends it to be.

JS: What are the main challenges migrant populations have to overcome in the U.S. today?

JK: Challenges? As I listen to people, I think the single biggest challenge immigrants face is that of finding people whom they can trust. They are accustomed to being personally and systematically ignored or exploited. I think this quest is at the heart of our community – the yearning for people to whom one can entrust confidences and vulnerabilities and on whom one can turn to for help or consolation. I see and hear this yearning in those who live in dark shadows with a fear of public places.

JS: What advice do you have for Lutherans who are engaging in immigration advocacy?

JK: In my experience the best advocacy speaks from the perspective of the people and situations that one knows and cares about. In the District of Columbia it is virtually impossible to eat at a restaurant or shop at a grocery store without engaging immigrants as people. In the long term, when people speak from the actual facts of their lives their voices carry farther and longer.

Augustana includes people baptized in the Wisconsin Synod, Missouri Synod, the ELCA, the Lutheran Church of El Salvador, the Lutheran Church of Sweden, a secret Lutheran church in Serbia, Lutheran churches in India and Tanzania, and perhaps other Lutheran traditions (not to mention Roman Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Searchers, and more). Every element of our religious denominational identity can be directly traced to the immigrant or refugee experience of coming from other places seeking religious freedom, political and/or economic rights. Acknowledging and owning this truth, changes the framework for discussing immigration today and gives one the authority to speak. I am stunned by the false witness of those who speak as if their roots were grown from purely American soil.

At the end of the day, I do not work for a cause. I work with people for whom I deeply care. Out of these relationships comes my desire to engage, support, laugh and weep with the people for whom I care and who care for me. In these relationships, their pain is my pain. In my past and present world, I cannot pretend that I am not personally bound to immigrants. I may differ from others in that I can attach personal names to so many faces. Seeing faces and naming persons as they hide under the shadow of current law compels me to pay attention, pray, and to act as faithfully as I can to be worthy of their trust.

Reflections From My March in Selma: Our Civil Rights Work is Unfinished

Linda Hartke, LIRS CEO, and Rev. Dr. John Luom, faculty member at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis walking the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

Linda Hartke and Rev. Dr. John Luom, faculty member at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

A little more than a week ago, I traveled to Selma, Alabama for the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when hundreds of peaceful citizens marching for racial justice were brutally beaten. I was invited by Concordia College Alabama (CCA), a historically black college of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).

CCA and the LCMS have a bold legacy of calling for equality: Concordia College Alabama, founded in 1922, is currently the only historically black Lutheran college or university in the United States.

I joined the college for their annual Civil Rights Symposium and spoke on a panel about the church and our role in civil rights. Hundreds of participants attended the symposium: CCA students, faculty and board of regents, college students from other schools who came by bus over their spring break, original “foot soldiers” from the Selma-Montgomery march, and many more.

During my panel, a question on racism today made me reflect: 50 years after Selma, racism is still evident in individual acts of fomenting fear, hatred, threats, violence, and daily discrimination. Racism in our country is systemic and institutionalized. This is seen in the rates of arrest and incarceration of African Americans and other ethnic minorities; in neighborhoods, schools, and jobs that are still, in many ways, segregated; and 50 years later in a renewed challenge to ensure the voting rights of all citizens.

This institutionalized racism harms the whole of society. It targets anyone who is seen as “other,” not only African Americans. In our work at LIRS, we see how this impacts new Americans, refugees, and immigrants. A person living here in Maryland once told me they didn’t want a refugee family of seven from the Democratic Republic of Congo to move in next door because they were afraid for their child’s safety. Fear continues to fuel racism today.

Rev. Dr. Tilahun Mendedo, President of CCA, insightfully elaborates on how racism exists today and affects us all. “The civil rights movement does not belong solely to the United States. Men and women are facing discrimination all over the world, and they turn to the United States for leadership, inspiration, and hope. Many of these men and women come to this country to better themselves and to provide for their families.”

“There are a number of students at Concordia,” he says, “from countries around the world, seeking a higher education and to be able to return to their own countries and make a difference in the lives of their countrymen. This becomes a ministry of our institution, to serve these young men and women, and to prepare them for the challenges they will face.”

Our civil rights work is unfinished. But as we march forward together and live in to God’s call to love and serve our neighbors, the constant presence of a loving God at work through us in a broken world gives us hope and pushes us towards a more just and compassionate world. I’m proud to walk this journey with the strong partnership of the LCMS, CCA, and people of faith around the country.

‘Flower and Song’ Poetry of Mesoamerica – Through Courageous Eyes

Courageous-Eyes-WebBanner-2This week Through Courageous Eyes features a collaborative pair of artists – the poet Cindy Williams Gutiérrez and musician Gerardo Calderón. Gutiérrez hails from Brownsville, TX and currently lives in Oregon City, Oregon. As a Latina poet and native-born American who believes in the notion of  ”the Americas” that includes all parts of both American continents, she was drawn to Mesoamerican poetry. Calderón, originally from Mexico City, focuses on Latin American folk music using pre-Hispanic instruments.

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

The Poety & Music of Ancient Mexico-Pasco WA 007

Gerardo Calderón. Photo by Nelda Reyes.

Cindy Williams Gutiérrez is a poet-dramatist who has explored the poetry of the Nahuas, the seven Mesoamerican tribes who lived in the central valley of Mexico prior to the Spanish conquest. The poems in the recordings below were inspired by Nahua poetry and poetic styles. She says she “fell in love with the Nahua culture” when she “learned that they refer to poetry as ‘flower and song’ – ‘in cuica in xochitl’ in Nahuatl or ‘floricanto’ in Spanish.”

This style of metaphor – “the joining of two concrete nouns to create a third, larger, more abstract idea” – is called difrasismo in Spanish and is commonly used in Mesoamerican poetry. Some examples include “word and breath” as prayer, and “clouds and mist” as mystery. Several of these metaphors are used in the poems recorded below, “Xopancuicatl, or Song of Spring” and ”Miccacuicatl, or Song for the Dead.”

“Xopancuicatl, or Song of Spring,” was inspired by a Nahua ritual that still occurs in June and December. Gutiérrez describes the event,

Though this ritual occurs close to the summer solstice, I call my poem “Song of Spring” because families present their newborns to the chief. This communal ritual begins after dark and ends at dawn, another symbolic mark of a new beginning. Families gather around an open fire in a 40-feet tepee, from which the smoke escapes through an opening at the top. The chief presides over the ceremony and recites prayers in Nahuatl accompanied by a percussionist.

Listen to “Xopancuicatl…” here: 

Photo by Nelda Reyes.

Cindy Williams Gutiérrez performing. Photo by Nelda Reyes.

Gutiérrez was encouraged by a mentor to find musical accompaniment for her poetry and met Gerardo Calderón, a musician originally from Mexico City. Calderón is the musical director for Grupo Condor, a Latin American folk music ensemble.

When Gutiérrez and Calderón met over coffee to discuss collaborating together he asked, “Why are you interested in writing poetry inspired by the Nahua?” She responded that she wanted “to help share and preserve the beauty and mystery of this indigenous culture of the Americas — particularly since it has often been viewed through the lens of brutality.”

With this they began their artistic collaborations – melding words and music, “flower and song.” Of how they collaborated for five years, Gutiérrez says,

I would give Gerardo a copy of my poem. As he sat next to me facing his instruments, I would read the poem aloud and then ask him, “What do you hear?” He would tell me and show me by playing the instruments that he thought would best accompany the poem.  Then he would ask me, “What do you think?”  I would often say, “Let’s try it.”  And we would.  Then I’d offer my thoughts, and he would offer his, and this iterative process would continue until we both felt it worked.  And the magic was that we both knew when it did.

After that process, she says, “We left it up to the muse and the spirits and the audience to inspire us for the rest.” The results are Nahua-inspired poetry accompanied by pre-Hispanic instruments including clay flutes, water drums, rain stick, butterfly cocoon rattle, turtle shell, and jaguar whistles.

Photo by Nelda Reyes.

Gerardo Calderón with pre-Hispanic instruments. Photo by Nelda Reyes.

Another piece formed through this collaborative process is “Miccacuicatl, or Song for the Dead,” which was inspired by the thirteen heavens and nine underworlds of Nahua cosmology.

In this poem the departed soul journeys through the underworld while carrying a jade bead and encountering wild beasts. At last it returns to Omeyocan, the thirteenth heaven where Ometeotl, or the God Above All, resides.

Listen to “Miccacuicatl…” here: 

Cindy Williams Gutierrez Photo-web

Photo by Nelda Reyes.

If you are interested in seeing more by these artists, Cindy Williams Gutiérrez’s poems are collected in a book called the small claim of bones published by Arizona State University’s Bilingual Press in 2014. She will be reading from her book, accompanied by Gerardo Calderón, at Stonehenge Gallery in Portland, Oregon on May 10, 2015. Gerardo and his wife Nelda Reyes, a duo called Nuestro Canto, will also perform songs in Mexican indigenous languages that evening.

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

HEADLINES: Immigration — March 18, 2015

640px-Liberty-statue-from-belowThe White House continues to fight the injunctions filed by a Texas judge on the November Executive Actions on immigration. The longer the Executive Actions are delayed, the longer it will leave millions of families and communities in limbo. Visit our blog for HEADLINES: Immigration. I’ll bring you all the most important and up-to-date news on the immigration debate.

White House Makes Aggressive Legal Push on Immigration [The Hill]

Increase H-1B Visas as Part of the DHS Appropriations Bill [The Hill]

Democrats Introduce Immigration Bill to Help Filipino Veterans in the U.S. [The Washington Post]

Syria: One Woman’s Story [Huffington Post]

How Texas is Using Immigration Detention Centers [MPR News]

100 in Indy Pray for Obama Immigration Efforts [Indianapolis Star]

‘March wit Max’s Family’ Seeks To Raise Deportation Awareness [The Des Moines Register]

Photo shot by Derek Jensen (Tysto)

This Week: Six Harmful Hearings Scheduled in the House of Representatives

button_icon_national_alert2Last week, we updated you on the passage of several negative pieces of immigration legislation through the House Judiciary committee, the first step towards their consideration by the full House of Representatives. This week, we write to update you on several scheduled hearings in Congress that address immigration issues.

Today, and this entire week, is packed with hearings on immigration. This morning, the Senate Homeland Security Committee held a hearing entitled “Securing the Southwest Border: Perspectives from Beyond the Beltway.” The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a separate hearing titled “Immigration Reforms Needed to Protect Skilled American Workers.” This afternoon, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reforms will hold a hearing on the President’s November Executive Actions on Immigration.

Wednesday afternoon, the House Judiciary Committee will continue its consideration of two extremely negative bills, the “Michael Davis Jr., in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act” (H.R. 1148) and the “Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act” (H.R. 1153). If passed, these bills would be particularly harmful to asylum-seekers, including women and children fleeing violence in Central America. They would expand the use of immigration detention and lead to distrust between migrant communities and the state and local law enforcement agencies entrusted with their protection.

Thursday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a second hearing on the oversight of the Department of Homeland Security’s detention practices. Later that same day, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the recent Texas ruling blocking the President’s November Executive Actions on Immigration, which is currently impeding family unity.

All of these hearings continue the troubling enforcement-only approach to immigration reform that we have seen in this session of Congress. While immigration enforcement and border security are important pieces of broader immigration reform, we believe Congress should work to enact legislation that keeps families together, protects children, migrants, refugees and other vulnerable persons. Now more than ever, it is important that Members of Congress know that people of faith stand for fair and compassionate reforms to our broken immigration system, reforms which welcome the newcomer and protect the stranger.

Please take a moment to use LIRS’s Action Center to urge your elected representatives to:

As always, check back to the blog for results of these hearings.