In recent years, South Florida has experienced a growing population of young people who come into the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. They come from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and occasionally Mexico. Many of them are fleeing gangs.
“The kids are afraid,” says Janet Horman, the pastor of Redland Community United Methodist Church. “There is a lot of pressure to join a gang, and they’ve seen the [horrible results of] gang wars.”
When they arrive in the U.S., it can be challenging to secure residency status. The national UMC organization, Justice For Our Neighbors (JFON), is offering free services and advocacy, but many arrive with limited finances and no transportation. A free immigration clinic four miles away may as well be across the country. JFON is willing to travel, but in the more rural areas of South Florida, basic technology like internet services are in short supply, making clinics difficult.
Horman and her team found a solution in the form of a camping trailer they planned to convert into a mobile clinic. When they found their ideal trailer, they approached the owners who soon texted them.
“They said, ‘God has been so good to us and given us a gift. How can we deny giving back?’” Horman says. The trailer was donated to their cause.
In February of this year, the South Florida JFON Mobile Immigration Clinic made its first public appearance. With lawyers and other volunteers, the clinic set up at First United Methodist Church in Homestead, Florida, a church with strong and trusted connections in the local immigrant community. Eight clients, including four unaccompanied minors, came through that day. According to Horman, that was just the beginning.
“Many people have the right, under law, to acquire citizenship or work cards, but they need an attorney,” Horman says. “Our next step is to go to some of those outlying areas that have no access to legal help.”