Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors “Give Children and Families a Chance.”

Recently the immigration issue has been exploited by politicians and some media outlets thus creating a negative atmosphere and resentment toward immigrants especially to Latino immigrants. Fortunately, not everyone feels the same, and in spite of all the negativity there are a lot of organizations and people who come together and help the immigrant community. Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors (Iowa JFON) is one of those organizations that make immigrants feel welcomed in the new and unfamiliar country.


“Iowa Justice for Our Neighbors is a faith-driven ministry, welcoming immigrants into our churches and communities by providing free, high-quality immigration legal services, education and advocacy,” April Palma, one of the attorneys that works with Iowa JFON, explained. “Iowa JFON’s services are available to all low income immigrants without regard to race, gender, or religion.”

15 years ago churches in Sioux City, Des Moines and Omaha established Iowa JFON in January of 2000. At first, attorneys came from Washington D.C. once a month to supervise legal clinics and advise clients. Many volunteers took time to work hard to make legal clinics happen and conduct interviews. By 2001 the organization came up with the way to hire an attorney who was in Omaha, but who also traveled to Sioux City and Des Moines to help with legal clinics and have appointments with clients. Years were passing and the program was expanding and more attorneys were working with Iowa JFON. Now there are attorneys that work with communities in Cedar Rapids, Columbus Junction, Ottumwa and Decorah.

“There are two specialty programs that serve the entire state of Iowa, one for the victims of domestic violence and the second for unaccompanied minors,” Palma said.

In addition to experienced attorneys, Iowa JFON relies heavily on the help of volunteers.

“We hold regional monthly clinics that make extensive use of volunteers to fill out intake documents for clients, translate and interpret, and to provide food and hospitality to our clinic clients. Additionally, we rely on volunteers in our office and on our board to advise us on policy issues, fund-raise and help us with the day-to-day tasks of keeping and office going,” Palma explained. She also added that the organization works thanks to donations from public.

Many people are very well aware of a surge of unaccompanied minors who were crossing the southern border last year. According to April Palma, 68,541 unaccompanied children were detained by the border patrol. Most of the children were coming from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. After they are detained by the border patrol they are then transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) which releases children to sponsors. Many sponsors, children’s parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and so on, live in Iowa; therefore about 407 children had been resettled in Iowa since 2014.

Iowa JFON wanted to help those children who cross the border fleeing violence in their countries, so they set up a hotline in September of 2014. They also enlisted the help of other organizations in Iowa and offered training and mentoring to private attorneys who were willing to take cases pro bono.

April Palma explained that every child that is detained by the border patrol is immediately placed into deportation proceedings and they are scheduled with a date to appear in front of judge in a federal immigration court.

“They have a chance to explain to the judge why they should be allowed to stay in the US,” Palma told us. She also said that without representation 9 out of 10 children would get an order to be deported.

“Many of these children qualify for either Special Immigrant Juvenile Status or Asylum. Many of these cases require a complicated mix of family law and immigration law that few attorneys are familiar with. It is even more difficult for unaccompanied minors to find legal representation at a rate they can afford,” Palma explained that these children are not appointed an attorney by the immigration court. If they can’t hire an attorney or get help from Iowa JFON or another organization then they have to appear in court before the immigration judge alone

Up until now Palma told us that Iowa JFON has talked and consulted with 130 unaccompanied minors to determine if they qualify and actually they are helping 40 children with complete representation. They also have trained 35 attorneys who can now also work with this type of cases.

Iowa JFON is funded by donations and through fund raisers; they would like to invite everyone to attend their upcoming fundraising benefit “Give Children and Families a Chance.”  It will take place on Thursday, November 12 from 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM at the Dorsey & Whitney Law Firm located at 801 Grand, Suite 4100 in Des Moines, Iowa. The event is open to everyone and the admission is $50 per person. Individuals, organizations, businesses, unions and houses of worship are invited to participate as host donors. Host donors at the $1,000 and above will be introduced during an event. For more information about this event and to RSVP to attend or for information about volunteer opportunities and other please visit Iowa JFON website at

Yes, in the past few months immigrants had been exploited politically by many media outlets and presidential candidates but not everyone believes this divisive rhetoric. In fact, there are a lot of people and organizations that are trying their best to help immigrants to find a way toward the American Dream.


One of the many amazing paintings displayed at The Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Northern Iowa.

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