Undocumented, low-income residents in Ellensburg receive JFON support

A woman with young children strolls through Shady Acres Mobile Home Park. Shady Acres’ land was recently sold by the county to make spaces for its rodeo in Ellensburg, Wash. displacing low-income residents.

By Pastor Jen Stuart | Photos by Rob Fraser

It all started with Shady Acres Mobile Home Park.

Although we have a Hispanic Apostolica congregation that meets in our building, we had not spent a whole lot of time getting to know this congregation until we found out that our county commissioners were closing the mobile home park that many of them live in.

Shady Acres Mobile Home Park is situated next to the fairgrounds. Our commissioners sought to buy it so that we would have more parking for the annual Ellensburg Rodeo. The commissioners thought that no one would notice taking away low-income housing in a city with a 100% occupancy rate and no plans for low-income housing. They were wrong. Although we lost that particular fight to the County we gained new friends.

Once you take Jesus seriously and start thinking of your neighbors as…well…your neighbors, then what they care about becomes important to you as well. We learned many things from our new Latino friends.

  • We learned that there were no immigration attorneys in Kittitas County.
  • We learned that many of our new friends had been misled by unscrupulous folks, who took their money and gave them no legal help.
  • We learned that if you do not speak English as a first language, you can and will be taken advantage of by employers and housing authorities.
  • We learned that no one chose to be an undocumented worker but instead were forced to be undocumented by circumstance, racism, and Byzantine immigration law.
  • We heard a cry for help and we listened.

Last year Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky encouraged us to read Christian Social Innovation: Renewing Wesleyan Witness. The book is a plea to get back to our Wesleyan roots. When we see a social issue that needs to be addressed and we know the government isn’t going to help, then it is our job to come up with a solution.

During Labor Day weekend, Ellensburg hosted a Rodeo Parade with marchers carrying signs that shared, “I’m an American, My family immigrated from _______”. Each person wrote-in where they were from. Surprisingly, many of the marchers received cheers and support from the crowd. Photo courtesy of Rob Fraser, used with permission.

So we reached out to National Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) to help us get an immigration attorney on the ground in Kittitas County. JFON is a United Methodist ministry that supports hospitality to immigrants by providing free or low-cost, expert immigration legal services to low-income immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. It started as an immigration ministry in Virginia in 1999 and has now spread to 17 sites across our country with more joining every year.

Since we started fundraising for this project we’ve literally had people leave their resumes with us so that they could be a part of JFON. Central Washington University professors, students, and faculty have joined the Board of Directors for JFON Central Washington and are leading the way in this justice ministry, many of whom are not a part of any worshiping community. We plan to be operational by late spring 2018.

We do not know what the future holds, but we’ve been called to make a difference here in Central Washington in the lives of our immigrant and refugee neighbors. Join us.

Pastor Jen Stuart serves Ellensburg First UMC.

Arizona: State of Fear (D2010)

This video explores the complex topic of Immigration and Immigration Reform.  As states view the Federal Government as being incompetent in dealing with this issue they are taking control of the situation themselves and writing harsh state laws designed to remove residents they consider to be here unlawfully. This results in fear for both those who are here lawfully and those who are undocumented.  Fear is also a common factor among non-immigrants although for very different reasons.  What are the social and economic pitfalls of an enforcement-only approach to immigration?  What should the Christian response be to immigration?  How does racism factor into the questions and policies regarding immigration?  This documentary includes interviews with Bishop Minerva Carcano (UMC), Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, business man Sheridan Bailey and journalist Valeria Fernandez and attempts to present what people on both sides of the immigration question feel.

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