By Jessica Sapalio, Social Justice Co-Chair, Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists
It was March 2020, and COVID-19 had hit us swiftly and hard. Many of our congregants were in the hospital and one had died. We were searching for ways to help each other, provide comfort, keep each other safe, find meaning in the chaos of the situation…
Unitarian Universalism (UU) is a faith of deeds, not creeds. We are called to break down divisions, heal isolation, and honor the interconnectedness of all life and all justice issues. As the pandemic response unfolded, we looked for a way that we could make an impact on our community. We wanted to identify a service that we uniquely could provide.
Several months earlier, we had received an email from the UU international aid agency–the UU Service Committee–announcing a new program through which congregations could host asylum seekers. Participating in the program became one of our long-term social justice goals. Then, in March, with the pandemic raging and all of us being told to stay at home for safety, we realized it was time to act to help those for whom “home” was not a safe haven. Now was the time for us to support others’ journey to safety.
We quickly rallied our volunteers and donors to launch Journey to Asylum – our program to partner with asylum seekers as they pursue safety here in our country. The program walks alongside these individuals and families from the time they arrive in Williamsburg until they achieve self-sustainability. We provide them housing, financial support, access to medical care and therapy, ESL courses, job training, and transportation. We also connect them with important community services and partners such as the William & Mary Law School Immigration Clinic, which is providing them with critical legal services.
We know that asylum seekers’ odds of being granted asylum are significantly higher with legal representation. Legal services are often both too costly and in such high demand that it is rare for asylum seekers to have the representation that is so important to their future. When our first asylum seeking family heard that their case had been accepted by the Clinic, we could visibly see the relief and hope on their faces. The W&M Immigration Clinic is providing such a vital resource to these asylum seekers and to our community. Our congregation is proud to partner with the Clinic and was pleased to make it the beneficiary of our Share the Plate program, providing funds for the Clinic through a Sunday collection.
One of the fundamental principles of the UU faith is the respect for the worth and dignity of all beings. No matter where you are from or what your situation, you are deserving of safety. We live in such a historically significant area of the country, and we want the next chapter of our area’s history to be one in which we embrace those in need of safety. We want our community to be an example of our country’s kindness and compassion for all. The W&M Immigration Clinic is helping to make this a reality.
In our Supporter Spotlight series, the Clinic highlights our generous supporters. You can also support us by donating to the Shainwald Immigration Law Clinic Fund, or attending at an upcoming event.