Rain Couldn’t Dampen JFON-NE Fundraiser 10/14/16 10/14/16 12:04:06 PM
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– Photos by Lorraine BoydIn addition to enjoying delicious food truck fare, JFON patron party guests sampled the results of a dessert competition between students from the culinary schools at Iowa Western Community College and Metropolitan Community College.
Rain Couldn’t Dampen JFON-NE Fundraiser
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
It was a dark and stormy night … but Snoopy needn’t have worried. The second annual Justice For Our Neighbors-Nebraska’s (JFON-NE) Food Truck World Tour fundraiser went off without a hitch, and proved to be a big success despite rain, wind and a tornado watch.
Thursday, Oct. 6, supporters returned to downtown Omaha nightspot Slowdown to eat, drink, dance and support the local non-profit law firm specializing in immigration law.
The organization reported, “Our preliminary total raised is about $140,000 – more than we have ever raised before in a single event!”
Executive Director Emiliano Lerda said, “Our success is due to a strong team effort. Our honorary chairs, Polina and Bob Schlott, co-chaired the host committee with Todd and Betiana Simon. Their suggestions made a big difference. The host committee members raised funds as well. Thanks to their leadership, this year’s Food Truck World Tour is our most successful fundraising event ever.”
The event featured food from local Omaha food trucks Maria Bonita, Sweet Lime, Attitude on Food and Big Green Q – plus a booth with sandwiches from Omaha Steaks. Since they are trucks, they had to be accessed in the rain, though organizers provided as much cover as they could. The rain couldn’t discourage the hungry however and friendly staffers with umbrellas also helped keep partiers dry.
Patron party guests also sampled creative (and delicious) desserts – indoors – from students of the culinary schools at Iowa Western Community College and Metropolitan Community College.
An after-party featured music evocative of many nations from popular local DJ Brent Crampton.
Honorary chairs of the event were Polina and Robert Schlott. Chairing the Host Committee are Betiana and Todd Simon, with Host Committee members Arike & Dele Davies, Ryan Ellis, Maria Fernandez, Roberta Wilhelm and Vic Gutman, Valeria and Washington Garcia, Frank L. Hayes, Esther Mejia and Jeneen Sagon, Athena Ramos and Jose Sanchez, and Erin Swanson Russell and Joel Russell.
Legal Director Shane Ellison took time to update everyone on JFON’s progress.
“We have continued to grow. In the almost six years since we started, with just Emiliano and I and two attorneys, we have grown to 18 full-time and one part-time staff members – 11 of them attorneys. Our first year, we handled 250 cases. This year we are on track to exceed 2,500 cases. And the need continues. In Nebraska alone there are an estimated 55,000 undocumented individuals.”
Since there is a constant flow of people seeking assistance, Ellison said they are partnered with the Nebraska Immigration Legal Assistance Hotline (NILAH) whose central intake line narrows down those who may be eligible for our services. The system is very efficient and has attracted some national attention as one to emulate, he noted. Houston, for one, is interested in modeling it. “We are proud of that innovation,” Ellison said. “It is a good example of service providers collaborating.”
“Our goal is responsible growth and development. A recent national report said 37 percent of individuals like those we serve have legal representation and 63 percent do not. For undocumented individuals, only 14 percent have representation. People have no legal right to an attorney in civil matters. If they can’t afford one, they are not appointed one. We have represented children as young as one-year-old. There is a great disparity in resources. It is known that removal attempts are three times as likely to be successful if the individual is not represented. We are trying to add fairness back into the process.”
Ellison pointed to a success story on the website in which siblings were able to access special immigrant juvenile status when they were abandoned by one parent – in this case, their father.
Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) Status is a pathway to permanent residency for children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected by one or both of their parents. For many years in Nebraska, this option was only open to children who had been mistreated by both of their parents, even though it was contrary to federal law and rulings by other states. Last year, the JFON-NE legal team developed a strategy that changed the outcome for these children, and others like them; they filed custody action for their mother. “We are happy to mentor lawyers with cases dealing with this,” Ellison said.
Stories told at the fundraiser detailed other heartwarming tales of how clients had been successfully represented by JFON lawyers. The stories were sometimes harrowing, but the skillful and empathetic help given by the lawyers provided a happy ending. You can read some of the stories on the organization’s website at: www.jfon-ne.org.