Justice For Our Neighbors Aims To Make Ward 4 A Sanctuary Again

The District of Columbia occupies a multitude of immigrants from all walks of life in all wards, like Ward 4.

The Washington, DC-Maryland Justice For Our Neighbors (DC-MD JFON) is dedicated to maintaining the haven that is Ward 4. As a clinic that offers free, quality legal services to the low-income immigrant population, DC-MD JFON seeks to build up the community through cross-cultural interactions. Volunteers and hosting churches collaborate in providing food, beverages, and hospitality. The clinics are held at three different locations (Northwest Washington, DC, Baltimore, MD and Gaithersburg, MD), and appointments are required to be seen.

In the District of Columbia, there are about 25,000 undocumented immigrants. Their top countries of origin are El Salvador (15.3%), China (4.9%), Ethiopia (4.7%), Mexico (4.0%), and India (3.9%). In Ward 4, there are more than 84,000 residents and 22.1% of the population is foreign-born. The majority of foreign-born Ward 4 residents are from Latin America (57%) and Africa (27%).

DC-MD JFON has been making an impact on the immigrant population in Ward 4 through their services since April 1998. The clinic was birthed by the goodwill of a United Methodist clergy couple, Fidel and Altagracia Compres, who wanted to combat the immigration issues in the community. 

The couple had no training in immigration services but were able to grow their intentions into the DC-MD JFON after connecting with the National Justice for Our Neighbors, A United Methodist Immigration Ministry in Fairfax County, VA.

Cynthia Cotte Griffiths, Executive Director of DC-MD JFON, said, “Coming from a foreign country to a completely new environment like DC can be a shock…you might even lose your faith. Justice for Our Neighbors strives to be that home for our clients. ”

Silvia Torres, Legal Assistant at DC-MD JFON, said, “The people that come into our clinic have cases of varying severity, but we handle them with the same passion and action. We want our clients to feel as safe as possible when sharing information about their immigration status.” Torres, as well as the rest of the staff at DC-MD JFON, must maintain a transparent and confidential relationship with all of her clients. Illegal immigration is not a subject taken lightly in the eyes of government officials. The possibility of deportation and raids by ICE grow every day.

Elizabeth Rodriguez, a former client, and volunteer at DC-MD-JFON said, “DC-MD JFON made me appreciate the hard work that goes into making sure that clients are well-taken care of. I experienced the caring arms of JFON as a client…people that I did not know treated me with so much love and kindness. The lawyer that tended to my case took his time in defending me and making sure that I became a citizen.”

An immigrant from Mexico who requested anonymity to avoid possible deportation said, “Immigrants are people too. This country was built on the backs of people that came from countries all over the world. America is full of immigrants…even if the rest of the world can’t see us, we will fight until they do.”

The American Civil Liberties Union DC, ACLU DC, is a nationwide non-profit, non-partisan, membership organization that is dedicated to maintaining civil liberties. According to a paralegal at ACLU DC, “Upholding the rights of the politically disenfranchised is vital; when the government has the power to deny legal rights and due process to one group of people, it puts all of our rights in danger.”

In August 2017, the safety of immigrants in Ward 4 was breached when anti-immigrant flyers were spread across the place they call home.  The flyers were posted throughout the Brightwood and Takoma neighborhoods in Northwest. Neighbors condemned the flyers as most of DC’s workforce is made up of immigrants. 

Ward 4 is a “sanctuary city,” therefore, DC police officers cannot enforce their local jurisdiction on immigrants no matter status. ICE may still step in to deport immigrants, perform raids, and overrule the sanctuary city policies that exist in DC and other areas.

D.C. has made some effort to make the city welcoming for immigrants. On June 26, 2018, Councilman Brandon Todd passed the Protecting Immigrants from Extortion Amendment Act, ensuring that all immigrants living in the DC are safe from ultimatums from landlords and other employers that threaten to reveal an immigrant’s status.

“This was a horrible incident…I was appalled at the sight of the flyers. However, it only made the clinic more empowered to serve our clients and hopefully change the perspective of whoever put those slanderous flyers up,” said Griffiths. Justice For Our Neighbors is using their clinic to combat the misrepresentation of immigrants as well as the injustices they continually face.

“Today’s government does not see me as a human being…they see me as scum on the bottom of Trump’s shoe, “ said the anonymous immigrant.