A Dangerous Journey They know the dangers and they come anyway. What does that say about the situations they left?

Decision to immigrate to the US aren't made lightly
The decision to immigrate to the US isn’t made lightly, no matter what the circumstances are in one’s home country

 Since 2014, Central Americans have been fleeing their homes en masse in hopes of making it to the United States. Officially recognized by President Obama as a humanitarian crisis , the Northern Triangle region (including El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) is plagued by dangerously high rates of gang-related violence, political insecurity, and organized crime groups; in fact, this region hosts some of the most violent countries in the world, with El Salvador noted as “the world’s most violent country not at war” (http://on.cfr.org/1PTk574).

Contrary to Popular Belief

This violence is one of the most critical factors for the rise in Central American immigration to the U.S. in recent years. A Pew Research Center poll found that in 2014 undocumented immigrants comprised 3.5% of the total U.S. population, of which Mexican immigrants make up 49% . Contrary to popular belief, there has actually been a decrease in Mexican nationals immigrating to the U.S.; but, the rise in Central American immigration has kept the percentage of undocumented immigrants around a steady 3.5% of the total U.S. population.

Once these asylum-seekers finally reach the United States (if they even do), their dangerous journey does not get any easier. The proliferation of anti-immigrant rhetoric and action within the public and political realms has given undocumented immigrants little chance of hope for reprieve.

So, why don’t they immigrate legally?

Greg Smith, co-founder and coordinator of LUCHA Ministries, explained the four pathways for legal immigration to the U.S. at the Cooperative Baptist Foundation’s annual Advocacy in Action event in Washington, D.C. last week. Legal immigration can occur through family ties, employment opportunities, a diversity lottery, or as asylum; however, each of these methods has a very long process with limited chance of success.

Family ties: This option has many stipulations that the immigrants must go through to take place successfully, most importantly having a petitioning US citizen or legal permanent resident relative, and even then there is very limited availability for legal immigrants this way.

Employment opportunities: Probably one of the better-known pathways to immigration, this option provides only 10,000 visas for unskilled workers annually through the Third Preference EB-3 category, with the backlog for filling these visas sometimes a decade or more.

Diversity lottery: This lottery provides the chance for people from underrepresented nationalities to immigrate to the United States with the possibility of citizenship. As you can guess, this is not a likely option for Central American immigrants.

Asylum: The U.S. provides asylum to refugees fleeing humanitarian crises in their home countries. Although President Obama has recognized the violence and organized crime of the Northern Triangle to be a humanitarian crisis, Central American immigrants fleeing violence at home are often not recognized as refugees and are therefore not automatically granted humanitarian asylum in the United States.

Take Action. Advocate.

Greg Smith and his wife Sue, executive director of LUCHA Ministries, asked the 30 people in attendance at their Advocacy in Action seminar to visit or write to their state representatives about immigration reform, particularly in the case of Central Americans. Among many issues facing Central American immigrants (not limited to ICE raids, deferred action status, and detention center treatment) is legal representation. Because US immigration law does not grant an attorney to immigrants at government cost, Miranda Rights are not afforded to them; therefore, children who appear in immigration court who cannot afford proper legal representation (i.e. the vast majority) must defend themselves.

Greg Smith and others talk with an aide to Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) about current legislation that affects immigrants
Greg Smith and others talk with an aide to Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) about proposed legislation that affects immigrants

With little to no knowledge or resources to guide them in immigration law, children must try to navigate their court proceedings for one of the most unmistakably confounding areas of U.S. law.

The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016 proposal by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and others calls for the provision of legal counsel to unaccompanied children as well as a general review of immigration court efficiency, including reducing costs and increasing access to legal information. (Read the full draft here: http://1.usa.gov/1QY59mc)

Take action with us and ask your representatives to support the Fair Day in Court for Kids Act. Advocate alongside the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, LUCHA Ministries, and the many others who believe that Central Americans deserve the chance to have a happy ending to their dangerous journey.

Is my Daddy a bad person? LUCHA Ministers to Families in Times of Crisis

 

“Is My Daddy A Bad Person?”

By Sue Smith, Executive Director

It was a beautiful fall day, and Eduardo*, his sister Yessenia*, and I were sharing Happy Meals and Chicken McNuggets. We were on our way home from an all-day trip to Farmville, Virginia, where I had taken the kids to visit their dad at the ICE detention center. Somehow McDonald’s didn’t seem like the ideal place for such a serious discussion.

“Ms. Sue, is my daddy a bad person?” asked “Little” Eduardo. Looking into the 6-year-old’s small face was like looking at his dad at that age. Same slight features, same big brown eyes, same black hair. “No,” I responded, “your dad isn’t a bad person. He’s a really good person, and he loves you.” “Then why can’t he come home with us? I miss him so much!” Little Eduardo said as the tears started to flow.

For nearly 20 months, Eduardo’s dad (also named Eduardo) was incarcerated, much of that time in a detention facility for immigrants while the courts decided whether he would be deported or not. The final court date was looming, and with an uncertain outcome. I couldn’t promise that Eduardo’s dad would come home soon, or come home ever. And how do you explain the difference in “jail,” where “bad people go” and immigration detention? That’s a lot for a 1st-grader to comprehend.

From the beginning, LUCHA Ministries has offered a variety of programming to help improve the lives of immigrants in our community: ESOL, tutoring, computer literacy and skills training, counseling, help in obtaining affordable healthcare, food assistance, and more. But it’s on days like this one, talking with Little Eduardo, when I am most aware of the impact of our ministry. What we do is important — vitally important — but how we do it, our holistic approach that extends to the entire family ,is what distinguishes us from other agencies in our community. The folks among whom we work aren’t simply participants in our programs, or clients, or immigrants. They are our friends, our neighbors, and fellow children of God.

Over the years, LUCHA Ministries helped “Big” Eduardo obtain emergency dental care, provided food assistance, and encouraged him to obtain his GED. When he was away, the care extended to his family, making sure they had their basic needs met and providing emotional support. And for those 20 months, I visited Eduardo regularly in detention, praying with him and reminding him of God’s continuous love and care in spite of difficult circumstances.

As Executive Director, I am thankful for LUCHA’s many board members, program directors, volunteers, and donors who share our passion to love and care for the immigrant community. They go above and beyond what is expected, and when they take responsibility for much of the daily administration of our programs and activities, they allow me to spend extra time with families or individuals who are going through a crisis.

I am also thankful for God’s amazing love and care for families like Eduardo’s. “Big” Eduardo is now back with his family and will soon receive his Green Card as a Legal Permanent Resident He’s attending church, working, and enjoying his children. He’s even considering college in the future. Like he recently told me, “I am so blessed, God is good. Thank you for not giving up on us.”

Many Ways to Welcome Immigrants Campers at Passport support ministry efforts among immigrants

The camp offering from Passport Camps this summer will go to Cooperative Baptist Fellowship work in the Rio Grande Valley, to Touching Miami with Love in Miami, Florida and to Virginia-based LUCHA Ministries.  “We’re honored to be featured by Passport,” says Sue Smith, Executive Director of LUCHA. “We’re glad to have had a part in shaping this summer’s focus and helping campers learn how to reach out to new immigrants in their schools, churches, and communities.”

What we do at LUCHA is Connected to a Larger Network

After learning about thousands of unaccompanied children traveling north from Central America last June, Passport called on Rick McClatchy, Coordinator of CBF TX to learn more. He introduced Passport to Diann Whisnand, CBF field personnel working in the border town of McAllen, Texas. Whisnand, who works involves literacy training and English as a Second Language, became involved in joint efforts of local ministries responding to the influx of people overwhelming the city. “Cooperative Baptists provided pallets of water,” says Whisnand, “Catholic Charities provided a welcoming space, and the Salvation Army made soup. We all worked together.”

Many of those who came from Central America last year have now made their way to families in New York, Virginia, Florida and California.

Sue and Greg Smith, co-founders of LUCHA, work among the Latino community in Fredericksburg, VA. “Many of the people from Central America are fleeing gang violence and crime.” said Sue Smith. “Unlike others who have immigrated to the United States, many now arrive traumatized by violence and are in need of a different kind of support.” One report estimates that there are ten murders in the city of San Salvador every day. It is not uncommon for children to have witnessed a murder.

In Homestead, Florida Wanda Ashworth Valencia works at Touching Miami with Love, under the direction of Jason and Angel Pittman. “Sometimes Miami is called a first-third world city,” says Jason Pittman, “because of the large discrepancy between the extremely rich and the extremely poor.” The Pittmans work in Overtown, an historic African American neighborhood, while Wanda offers similar community development work in Homestead, which serves a largely Hispanic population.

“What’s with the Dolls?”

Passport 2015 Emphasis 2These handmade dolls are a symbol of welcome for the many immigrant children who come to the United States.  The Welcome Dolls were created by a Women in Ministry group from College Park Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina and sent to Diann Wisnand in Texas, where they were distributed to newly-arrived immigrant children.   Each child also received a note of encouragement, reminding them to think of God’s love and care as they hug their dolls.

Many Latino children who arrive in the US are reunited with their parents after many years of being apart.  They’ve been living with grandparents or other relatives while their parents came to the United States to work and establish a home before sending for them.  They don’t speak English, they don’t know their parents personally, and they’re grieving over the people and things they’ve left behind.

“The adjustment is hard on everybody,” says Sue Smith of LUCHA.  “Ministries such as ours focus on helping the whole family understand that it’s not an easy process. It takes time.”  Programs focus on practical aspects of adjustment, such as homework assistance to help children in school, ESL to encourage language proficiency, and adult language and literacy programs to help parents become more engaged in their children’s education.

And then there’s the emotional adjustment.  Parents have dreamed of having their children with them, and children have dreamed of coming to the states to live with Mom and Dad.  But there are challenges.  The kids are essentially entering a “new” family, learning the rules and getting to know each other.  It’s frustrating for parents, and it can be lonely for the new children.

Maria*, who arrived from Guatemala at age 12, says that it was really hard to adjust.  “I didn’t know my parents or my little brothers.  I felt stupid in school because I couldn’t speak English.  People laughed at me.”  But she says it was her church friends and youth leaders who made a difference.  Some helped with homework, others practiced English with her.  “They didn’t laugh at me, and they made me feel welcome.”

Today, Maria is 16 and is one of the young people who attends Passport with her church.  Not only has Passport taught campers about welcoming immigrants, but they’ve modeled it by welcoming many of these children and youth in camp.

*name changed to protect identity

 

 

A Beloved Community Project Adelante helps families move forward

During the height of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King spoke about the idea of the Beloved Community.

This type of society wasn’t based on unattainable ideals but could be achieved by the love of neighbors and promoting American principles of equality and justice. It was a place where everyone was valued no matter what they looked like, how much money they made or where they came from.

In the Beloved Community, everyone had worth.

Through my work with LUCHA, I’ve seen a small sample of this type of community. For the last few months, I’ve been involved with Project Adelante, an empowerment program that helps families move forward.

The program began in 2012 when a local chemist had an idea to take his hobby of soap-making and use it to teach economic empowerment to immigrant families. It started off slowly with a few families learning how to make soap from scratch.

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Others got involved and started teaching crochet classes. Soon the program grew to include CPR with Red Cross certification, painting and English pronunciation.

The classes teach more than language or new skills. They instill self-confidence. For many immigrants, coming to a new country poses fresh challenges. They miss their homes and families. They have fear of people making fun of them when they try to speak English. They have to navigate new systems and bureaucracies including school, health care and social services. Many lose a sense of communal togetherness they had in Latin American culture and feel lonely, isolated and depressed.

What sticks out to me about Project Adelante is everyone moves forward together. People take turns being volunteers, translators, teachers and students. No one is seen as a “charity case” because everyone has their problems and their contributions. We work to solve problems like loneliness, culture shock and economic need and transform them into solidarity, self-confidence and neighborly love.

It’s not charity. It’s empowerment. My self-esteem has grown since helping with the program. I’ve learned skills I never thought I could do before. I’ve found a second family with people who come from over six diverse countries.

Students become teachers, translators become learners, children join in on the party. Everyone is welcome.

At Project Adelante, a small taste of Dr. King’s beloved community has come true.

“But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.” -MLK

To learn more about how your family can move forward visit here:  7 steps to move forward in English, in español

Help LUCHA by donating to the Community Give on May 5! All proceeds will benefit Project Adelante.

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Ms. Ann supports LUCHA by teaching crochet to mothers.
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Why do I support Project Adelante? “The women are PHENOMENAL!! Write that all caps with lots of exclamations. I love them like they’re my daughters.”
We just like helping people. It's fun to do.
We just like helping people. It’s fun to do.
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“The most important part to me is we are blessed and have learnt something new.”
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I support LUCHA… “because I saw in LUCHA Ministries a genuineness to serve others through the love of God.”

 

 

7 Pasos para Seguir Adelante Community Give #give15

En LUCHA, creemos que cada persona tiene valor. Proyecto Adelante empodera a las familias para mejorar sus vidas.

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7 pasos que avancen a las familias:

1. Aprender una habilidad

Nuestras familias han aprendido primeros auxilios, computación, crochet, pintura, química y la fabricación de jabón.

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2. Aprender una idioma

Nuestros familias asisten las clases de ingés,  pronunciación y se alfabetizan a las personas que no saben leer o escribir en español.Spanish1

3. Crear Comunidad

Proyecto Adelante incluye a las familias de muchos países, como El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México, India y los Estados Unidos. Somos una familia global.

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4. Compartir un plato

Después de cada clase las familias comen y beben juntos. Es un momento de solidaridad y amor.

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5. Enseñar una clase

Nuestras familias son muy talentosas. Después de aprender una  habilidad, enseñan nuevas habilidades a los demás.
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6. Alcanzar sus sueños

Nuestras familias tienen sueños grandes. Algunos quieren tener su propio negocio. Otros quieren que sus hijos vayan a estudiar a la universidad. Trabajemos juntos para alcanzar nuestras metas.

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7. Incluir toda la familia

Desde bebés a ancianos, Proyecto Adelante tiene espacio para toda la familia.

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1Cgive (2)LUCHA está en un concurso en Facebook y Twitter. Ayúdenos a ganar compartiendo nuestro video y fotos.

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Our God is Undocumented Book Review

Book Review

 Our God is Undocumented is a “bifocal approach” to the issue of immigrant justice and migrant ministry in North America.  Ched Myers’ odd-numbered chapters offer biblical reflections on immigration, while Matthew Colwell’s even-numbered chapters narrate profiles of women and men involved in the struggle for immigrant justice.  The authors contend that, in Christ’s body, all dividing walls of hostility have been broken down, denying all rationale for xenophobia and exclusion and promising the hope of a “church without borders” for God’s people.

Myers chooses passages from both the Old and New Testaments to speak to the meaning of justice, reconciliation and inclusion.  Issues include cultural diversity and social ecology (Chapter 1); the practices of sanctuary and hospitality (Chapter 3), inclusiveness (Chapter 5); Jesus’ embrace of “the other” (Chapter 7); and anti-immigrant nativism (Chapter 9).  These chapters challenge the reader to look beyond traditional interpretation s and focus on the social, economic and political contexts the biblical stories narrate, so that the needs of “the other” are taken into full consideration.

Colwell features the work of two white North American ministers (Chapters 2 and 8), two Salvadoran activists (Chapters 4 and 6), and a Chicano human rights organizer (Chapter 10) to illustrate the struggle for justice against intolerance, ignorance, nativism and discrimination.  Their witness demonstrates the fight for justice can be long and difficult, but it is the path God’s people are called to walk.

Readers may not always agree with every interpretation given nor every position taken by the activists portrayed, but this book will force them to think more carefully about the call to justice and peace upon their lives.

7 steps to move forward Community Give 2015

At LUCHA, we believe every person has value with something unique to offer the community. Project Adelante empowers families to share their gifts, realize their worth and improve their lives.

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7 ways your family can move forward

Step 1: 

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Project Adelante is about trying skills you thought you couldn’t do. Our families have learned CPR, crocheting, painting, chemistry and soap-making.

Step 2: 

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For many immigrants, learning English is difficult. Project Adelante helps by providing pronunciation and grammar classes. We also help with literacy for Spanish speakers who have not learned to read or write in Spanish.

Step 3: 

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Project Adelante is comprised of families from all over the world including El Salvador, Mexico, India, Honduras and the United States. While learning together, a global family is born.

Step 4: 

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After every class, families share a meal, often bringing food they prepared at home. It is a time of fellowship and love.

Step 5: 

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Our families are made up of talented individuals. Many teach their own classes after learning new skills from others.

Step 6:  

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Our families have big dreams. Some want to own a business. Others want to send their kids to college. At Adelante families work together to reach their goals.

Step  7:  

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Whether babies just learning to walk, high schoolers about to graduate or grandparents relaxing in rocking chairs, Project Adelante is a place for everyone.

Join Fredericksburg for the Community Give and support Project Adelante here! 

 

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You can help us just by sharing these photos and videos, liking us on Facebook , following us on Twitter and on Pinterest.

Help us get enough online participation, so we can win a visual storytelling conetst!1428618308

Backpacks of Love Supplies keep immigrant kids in school

It’s amazing what one backpack can do.

Since LUCHA began 11 years ago we’ve supplied Latino children  with school supplies. With dropout rates for Hispanic youth still more than triple that of white children and 4% more than black children in Virginia, even a simple Spiderman binder or Princess notebook can build kids’ self-esteem and keep them in school.

As a child, Yerendi Roblero looked forward to receiving a new backpack.

“I would always open it up ready to see what was inside,” Roblero says. “That was really exciting for me.”

Today after graduating high school with honors, Roblero is enrolled in Bluefield College where she studies forensics and criminal justice. She was recently invited to the Eisenhower Executive Office of the White House where she advocated for immigrants and people living in poverty. She credits much of her success to being prepared in elementary and high school.

“In some way when you get your supplies, it gives you hope,” Roblero says. “It keeps you motivated to do better.”

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Roblero with friend Antonella Membreno at the White House

Thanks to generous donations we haven’t needed to ask for school supplies for the last several years. However, this year our stock is running low so we’ve made a school wish list showing the average cost per elementary and high school student.

We’re asking individuals, small groups and Sunday school classes to prayerfully consider sponsoring a backpack for the 125-150 children we serve.

LUCHA’s Wish List:

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Sick and Far From Home Helping immigrants navigate health care

In 2012, Maria, an immigrant from Honduras became sick.800px-US_Navy_060531-N-1577S-129_A_local_doctor_performs_a_cataract_surgery_on_a_patient_at_Zamboanga_Medical_Center

No one was sure what was wrong as the young mother began to lose weight, eventually getting down to just 80 pounds. Before hospitalization, Maria worked her day shift at McDonald’s, putting in eight hour days without a break then walking 30 minutes home. She continued to care for her 4-year-old son and sent money to Honduras to support her 7-year-old son and mother. Eventually, she lost so much weight she was admitted to Mary Washington Hospital and was identified as having type 1 juvenile diabetes. The diagnosis came as a shock since Maria had no family history of the disease.

Diabetes is a disease that requires constant upkeep. Maria had to learn how to take insulin shots four times a day, how to check to see if her blood sugar was too high or low and how to use money orders to receive medicine since she didn’t have a credit card.

Because she is an immigrant, it was harder to receive services for her treatments; LUCHA was able to help her find a specialist in Charlottesville about 1.5 hours away and facilitate interpretation and transportation.

Uncertainty about what to do when you get sick can be a big issue for immigrant families. Learning to navigate the intricate bureaucracy of the health care system is difficult enough for native English speakers, but for those who are still learning the basics, the task can seem insurmountable.800px-Needle_Syringe_Spike

Immigrants must find ways to pay for check-ups or treatments since they often are unable to receive health insurance. Just one of the 8 medicines Maria needs for  treatment costs $200 without insurance.

Second, they may need reliable transportation. Many of our clients are unable to drive long distances to Charlottlesville or Richmond but cannot find basic services in Fredericksburg.

Finally, without translation services, many of our clients who are still learning English feel uncomfortable speaking with nurses and doctors who use phrases  that are unfamiliar or filled with medical jargon.

LUCHA provides services to help immigrants navigate the intricate health care system. We believe everyone should be equipped with the tools they need to know what to do when they get sick. Today Maria is doing well. Although she still has much to deal with from work and motherhood, she is learning how to combat her illness and move forward.

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Dreamers at the White House Antonella's Story

unnamed-3Antonella Membreno is the classic college student. She Snapchats her friends funny photos, studies for classes at Bluefield College and works at her part-time job as a hostess. But, despite seeming like a typical American teenager, Antonella has overcome obstacles just to live a normal life.

When Antonella was 9-years-old she moved to the United States from Nicaragua to reunite with her father who arrived several years earlier.

“I was in 4th grade and didn’t speak English,” Membreno remembers. “It was hard, but you learn.”

Despite getting a late start, Antonella quickly rose to the top of her class, graduating from high school with honors. But when she started looking at colleges, problems arose.

Because Antonella came to the United States when she was 9, she is considered an undocumented immigrant, waiting in a hypothetical line for citizenship. After 10 years, it’s apparent the line isn’t moving.

“We hear all the time about how people should just get in line, “says LUCHA director Greg Smith. “The truth is there is no line.

Because of her undocumented status, Antonella was unable to participate in important rites of passage like learning to drive or getting a part-time job. Even seeing a movie with her friends could turn her into a criminal since she was unable to receive a license.

“I was raised here. I’ve lived over half my life here,” Membreno says. “It’s weird how you can love a place so much but not fully belong.”

Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act, which helps immigrant minors receive several legal benefits, Antonella’s life took a positive turn. She was able to get a social security number and driver’s license, work legally and apply to colleges. But paying for university posed new problems.

“I still can’t apply for state scholarships because it’s federal money,” Membreno says. “But I have a few private scholarships based on academic merit.”

It was especially difficult for Antonella’s younger brother, who started doing poorly in school after seeing his sister struggle.

“He decided to slack off because he thought, what’s the point? Even if I do well in school I’ll never make it anywhere,” Membreno explains. “This happens to a lot of immigrant kids. We feel like we have no future. After I got DACA, my brother is trying harder.  He’s enrolled in college.”

In early March, LUCHA Ministries was invited to the Eisenhower Executive office of the White House as part of an Advocacy in Action summit with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Antonella and her friend Yerendi Roblero, a former Student.Go intern who came to the U.S. from Guatemala when she was just six months old, were invited to attend. While in Washington, they met with their Senate and congressional representatives and attended a meeting with special assistant to the president, Melissa Rogers. For Membreno the experience was formative. She and Yerendi were able to share their stories with Senate and congressional aides.

“I was glad we could tell the senators thank you about DACA,” Membreno says. “It was more challenging talking to the congressmen, but it was nice to let people know that there are still people fighting for [immigration reform].”

The girls learned about advocacy issues affecting people in poverty including hunger and predatory lending. Antonella especially enjoyed visiting Bread for the World, a nonprofit dedicated to issues of hunger.

“My favorite part was hearing Melissa Rogers speak on how churches and the federal government can work together,” she says.

Membreno  acknowledges the need for comprehensive reform. She is studying criminal justice and journalism and wants to eventually go to law school.

“Everyone, whether you know it or not, knows an immigrant,” she says. “I want to help them receive their rights.”

Antonella says she understands why not every citizen participates in advocacy. However she encourages citizens to stand up for those who are not being heard.

“You don’t have to advocate for immigration reform,” Membreno says. “But I think if someone is conscious, if you have the power, you should advocate for things that are meaningful.”

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LUCHA Ministries team at the White House

 

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