First Church in Belmont has become quite active in working with asylum seekers, refugees and undocumented immigrants. Increasingly we hear questions about how we serve these communities and also what exactly do these terms mean. We hope this piece will help address these questions.
What all three groups have in common is that they are people who have survived challenging circumstances and made sacrifices to move to another country in hopes of a better life for themselves and their families. Though all immigrants, their circumstances differ significantly and so do the ways that we can support them.

Refugees

According to the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), refugees are people who have been forced to flee their country and have a well-founded fear of persecution. Most likely, they cannot return home without risk of harm. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading reasons that refugees flee their countries.
Once refugees are registered with the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and referred to the US Department of State (DOS), they undergo 2-4 years of interviews by several US government agencies. Once accepted as a refugee, DOS refers the refugee to a resettlement agency, which oversees a 90-day resettlement. They are granted the status of legal residents in the US. Many remain indefinitely, while some stay until conditions in their country improve. After a year they can apply for a green card and then after five years for US citizenship.
FCB works with the resettlement agency, International Institute of New England (IINE) in Lowell. They provide numerous services for newly arrived refugees including initial housing, case management, referrals to services, English instruction and job placement. As part of a pilot project under Sam James’ leadership, our church has formed three welcome teams working with families from Congo, Somalia and Syria. These teams, consisting of 8 members, meet regularly with the family for 6 months to help with cultural orientation, English instruction and navigation of services around town. Working with these families may be frustrating but is quite rewarding as bonds between the family members and team members are likely to form through the numerous social interactions.
     How To Help: For more information on supporting this initiative or getting involved in the next round of welcome teams, contact Sam James at sjames@uubelmont.org.

Asylum Seekers

First Church in Belmont has been working to support Central American asylum-seeking women and their children through Irish International Immigrant Center (IIIC). These asylum-seeking families have crossed the US border to flee violence in their home country and were initially incarcerated in Texas. Once released, many have migrated to all parts of the US to join a friend or family member, and find work and re-settle. 134 families are being served now in the Boston area by IIIC. First Church has supported this effort through providing move-in bins and volunteer help spearheaded by Bev Freeman. FCB has also played a pivotal role in raising funds for the case manager, Sofia Vergara, who was hired in January and supports the refugees. FCB hosted a fundraiser and also helped through grant-writing.
The process of finding and maintaining a job is difficult for these women until their asylum application is approved, a process which can take 2 – 3 years. Although they have filed asylum applications and are thus documented, unlike refugees, they are not eligible for public benefits. Therefore, cash assistance is needed for partial rent support and legal assistance.
     How To Help: If you can contribute to or help with a fundraising campaign in the near future, contact Bev Freeman at bfreeman@uubelmont.org. If you can supply household goods for the families, please reach Liz Keating, lkeating@uubelmont.org. She will provide a list of what is needed.

Undocumented Immigrants

An undocumented immigrant is a foreign-born person who doesn’t have a legal right to be or remain in the United States. Routes to becoming undocumented include crossing the border into the US without inspection, entering legally on a tourist visa which expires, or submitting an immigration application or petition which is denied and continuing to remain in the US. Many undocumented immigrants have been in the United States for many years, leading productive lives and trying to provide for their family members here in the US and those they left behind. In the current political climate, these immigrants are at risk of being deported and separated from their families.
The newly formed Sanctuary Committee will work to coordinate First Church’s efforts to support immigrants at risk of deportation who have been accepted into sanctuary in Boston area churches. The committee’s initial organizing meeting will be Wednesday, September 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the Conference Room. To start, the committee will work on developing partnerships with churches offering sanctuary, participate in trainings, and organize our congregation’s efforts. The committee’s regular activities will range from providing services, collecting and delivering supplies, advocacy and education.
     How To Help: If you are interested in joining the committee, please come to the first meeting or contact Eva Patalas at epatalas@uubelmont.org or Liz Keating at lkeating@uubelmont.org.