Today, I’m pleased to share a guest post by LIRS board member Bishop Michael Rinehart of the Gulf Coast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Bishop Rinehart writes on First Steps and how members of his synod will use it in their ministry to new Americans.
As members of an unfamiliar society, new Americans face huge challenges. Many have come from situations we can hardly imagine. Abuse, torture, and poverty. Some have seen the death of loved ones. Others were forced into gangs, armies, or militias.
Sadly, the United States has reinstated the obsolete practice of detaining families. Hundreds of families are currently detained, and the average age of children in detention is only six years old. We have even heard of a baby baptized in detention. That we detain families with children at all is heinous. It is a human rights violation that is against everything we stand for in the United States. Many flee their country, then arrive in the land of freedom only to be put behind bars, with no due process, sometimes without a court date. The basic human rights for which our forebears fought are disregarded.
Those who have been granted asylum find themselves in a strange country with new laws. Those who have come here without documents or who come legally but overstay their visas because of our antiquated system may be awaiting a court date. What are their rights and responsibilities? There are not nearly enough well-trained immigration attorneys. Often attorneys unfamiliar with our complex immigration system get asked to help. This book, titled First Steps: An LIRS Guide for Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants Released from Detention, is a manual for refugees, migrants, and asylum-seekers, that they may know their rights. It is also for lawyers, case managers, churches, and other service providers. First Steps is a project of the Detained Torture Survivors Legal Support Network, a program of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS).
There are 28 short chapters on topics such as what rights you have if you’ve been arrested, how to get your personal property back when you get released from detention, how to get a green card, how to get a work permit, how to reunite your family, information about voting, joining the military, access to healthcare, education for children, how to get a Social Security number, how to get a state ID card, finding support from religious communities, how to find legal services, and more.
Various congregational members in our synod have visited detention centers, participated in prayer vigils and personally helped new Americans get on their feet. “First Steps” will give us information that can help us be more aware of what new Americans face and how to be supportive.
First Steps is available as an EPUB, PDF, and is downloadable to Kindle. Visit lirs.org/FIRSTSTEPS to learn more and download your copy. Two status specific supplements are available for lawful permanent residents and asylum seekers. First Steps will be available in Spanish shortly. If you have questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you feel called to welcome further, consider giving hope to migrants in detention by participating in visitation ministry. Visitation ministry is a commitment to regularly visit with individuals or families isolated in immigration detention. 30-60 minutes of compassionate fellowship helps restore dignity to those affected by our broken detention system. Visit lirs.org/visitation to learn more, and use LIRS’s interactive map to identify and connect with a visitation ministry in your community. Folks in Karnes City, Texas are arranging visits to the Karnes detention center around Christmas. If you are in the area and are interested in joining, please contact Paul Pfeifer directly at email@example.com.
You can also stand alongside migrants and refugees by advocating through the LIRS Action Center, organizing a prayer vigil, sharing Mythbusters, using our Holiday Toolkit for Migrant Justice, and more. For details on how to lead an event, visit http://lirs.org/act/campaigns/sfw/. If you live near Austin, Texas, consider participating in the Lutheran Legislative Event scheduled for February 15-17, 2015.