“I have lots of family stories around immigration. English was not my first language, German was. My daughter was also the first child that Lutheran Social Services of New England [now Ascentria] brought over with their international adoption program.”
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service recently published the First Steps: An LIRS Guide for Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants Released from Detention. This guide provides an overview and in-depth explanation of United States’ complex system of laws, expansive network of agencies, public and private systems, civil responsibilities, and eligibility for services and benefits.
Barbara Ruhe is a lawyer by trade. However, she is finding the First Steps guide to be helpful in the work of her congregation and as she advocates for immigration policies.
“Much of what I say is guided by my faith. I went to Valparaiso University, where we are taught to live out our faith in our work, and I consider my work as a lawyer part of my ministry.”
Barbara attends Grace Lutheran in Hartford, Connecticut, that has roots to German Lutheran immigrants. In fact, some of the Germans at Grace were resettled by LIRS. Enough families at Grace immigrated from Germany that they understand why immigration issues are important today. In fact, their outreach to immigrants and refugees continues today.
“A few years back a whole Karen community (an ethnic group from Burma) was settled in Hartford. We all cleaned out our basements and attics, found them jobs, and advocated for them. They came to mass at Grace for a year afterwards because they were so grateful for our help.
“One Sunday, a beautiful thing happened. We were singing a song that was a Baptist hymn, and then from the back of the church, we heard it being sung in a different language. The Karen community knew the song, and had joined in in Karen. Eventually, they went off and formed a Karen Baptist church.
“We have another wonderful story in our parish: After church one Sunday, a gentleman named Paul came up to me. Paul was a political refugee from Cameroon, where he had been tortured in prison. His wife and 4 kids were back in Cameroon, and he had come to the United States to seek asylum. Despite his torture, he was not granted asylum here in the United States. But he showed me all his papers, and I knew that he had a legitimate case.
“The pastor’s wife, a lawyer, and another lawyer did all the paperwork and they won the case. I was able to go to his citizenship ceremony, which was very special for me. Paul worked for a year and was able to save money to bring over his family.
“Now, Paul and his wife both work. Their oldest daughter is in medical school, the other two are in college right now, and the youngest, who was five when she arrived, is in 8th grade. Paul is on our church council, a great asset to our church, and his family is a treasure.”
Barbara shares that, “being afraid,” is one of the biggest problems she sees for refugees and immigrants. “Here in Connecticut, undocumented people can get drivers licenses, but people are so afraid of the government that I wonder how many of them will get licenses. Most undocumented people try to keep a really low profile.
“As a lawyer, I don’t do immigration work, but I went with a young man’s parents to their citizenship interview. The mom had slight dementia, and the father knew his stuff, but was terrified. My mere presence at the interview gave the father the courage to do it well.”
“I get phone calls from people in the community because I’m known and active in the community. First Steps has information in it that I can use when people call me looking for immigration help.
“First Steps is just plain, straightforward, accurate information that is written so it can be understood. A tool to educate the community about the issues. LIRS does a stellar job.
You can download an electronic version of the guide in English or Spanish for use in your own personal or congregational ministry.