"I Am One of the Lucky Ones" - A Call to Mercy, Pt. 1

For the next two weeks, Honduran-born U.S. immigration attorney Killa M. will share her reflections on life in Honduras and on showing mercy to unaccompanied children in "A Call to Mercy", a four-part LSG blog series.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Lutheran Services of Georgia.

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I came to the United States from Honduras on a student visa when I was 17 years old, just a month shy of my 18th birthday. I wanted to get the best college education so I could return home and work in the Honduran tourism industry or perhaps at the “Cancillería” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs). I wanted a job that would allow me to share my country’s beauty and potential with the world.

My mother always reminded me that, after graduation, I was to return to Honduras and use my foreign-acquired skills to benefit my home country. However, a few weeks before she was murdered, while I was in my second year of law school, she told me something she had never said before: “Stay where you are. Don’t come back to this country. There is nothing left here for you.”

My mother, Judith Aleman Banegas, was a well-respected attorney. During her 30-year-long career as an attorney she successfully took on all kinds of cases, from child custody disputes to complex international business transactions. Anyone who knew my mother recognized that she possessed a brilliant legal mind. As a woman in a very chauvinist society, my mother was nevertheless able to excel and surpass most men in her field. Her intelligence was overshadowed only by her humility and kindness.

My mother loved nothing more than to help individuals with no access to the limited Honduran legal system. Consequently, she fought for the rights of low-income women and their children. She was the kind of person who would watch the evening news and be so moved by someone’s plight that she would call the news station and offer her services pro bono. She was a fierce advocate for transparency in the courts and was openly critical in the media about corrupt government officials who manipulated and abused the legal system.

To this day, I don’t know who killed my mother. I have no idea who ordered or paid to have her killed. All I know is that, on the afternoon of November 7, 2011, five heavily armed men intercepted her car. They killed my mother, her bodyguard and her secretary. My mother left me and my two siblings behind. Her bodyguard had two kids. Her secretary was a single mother of a 9-month-old baby girl.

If you feel bad for me, don’t. I am one of the lucky ones. I didn’t see my mother die. I didn’t hear her scream. I was never harassed or beaten. I didn’t have to walk the streets of my neighborhood wondering when my turn to die would come. Many of the children fleeing to the U.S. from Honduras are not as lucky as I am.

Check back on Thursday, September 18, for part two of "A Call to Mercy". If you have questions about this blog series or for Killa, please contact Abi Koning, Communications Coordinator, at akoning@lsga.org.

LSG Hosts Summit For Our Children

IMG_1392 On August 12, 2014, Lutheran Services of Georgia hosted the Summit For Our Children. Organized by the Alterna Community and convened by Alterna co-founder Anton Flores-Maisonet, the Summit For Our Children was a compassionate, just, and timely response to the crises of unaccompanied children and the children of immigrant parents, especially mothers, who are detained or deported.

Representatives of eleven groups and organizations traveled to downtown Atlanta to exchange resources and ideas for responding to the needs of migrant children. Participants included Access to Law Foundation, Alterna, Atlantans Building Leadership for Empowerment, Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services, Covenant House of Georgia, Dekalb County Schools, DHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, Jubilee Partners, Lutheran Services of Georgia, and Welcoming America.

LSG’s President and CEO Floyd R. Blair welcomed the participants and Anton shared his motivations for organizing the summit. Through showing hospitality, the Alterna Community is intimately connected with the struggles of immigrants in the United States. Anton expressed that, over the past several years, Alterna has become increasingly concerned with how current immigration policies harm vulnerable families and children. He wanted to bring together passionate, concerned people to develop a cohesive response to this crisis.

Each group described their current work with and knowledge of migrant children. What emerged was a picture of the diverse array of services already available, including legal representation and consultations for unaccompanied children, short-term and long-term foster care, alternatives to detention, houses of hospitality for immigrants and refugees, local and national advocacy efforts, trauma services, and more.

Attendees formed three discussion groups to explore opportunities for collaboration. Together, they brainstormed ways to educate the community about migrant children, provide housing and support services, and mobilize faith-based and other communities for action. Each group presented their ideas and began making the necessary plans to make those ideas a reality.

Participants in the Summit For Our Children recognized that responding effectively to the needs of vulnerable populations requires continued dialogue and collaboration. LSG thanks Anton Flores-Maisonet and the Alterna Community for bringing together groups and organizations committed to supporting migrant children.

Click here to see more photos from the Summit.

LSG Advocates for New Americans at the Capitol!

On February 5th, 2014, LSG's Atlanta Refugee and Immigration Services team participated in the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies (CRSA)'s New Americans Celebration at the Capitol! Ten RIS staff, volunteers, and interns educated lawmakers about the amazing contributions refugees make in Georgia. We joined other refugee- and immigrant-serving organizations to distribute informational packets to legislative offices and reach out to our elected officials to share the amazing stories of new and future Americans in our state.

Several members of our team acted as team leaders for the day and led groups of 3-4 participants to legislative offices. We shared personal stories and had great conversations with both legislative staff and legislators themselves.

One participating LSG staff member who came to the United States as a refugee several years ago had the opportunity to meet his representative. He reflected on the experience:

"Using myself as an example, I told my Rep that, when I came to the U.S. five years ago, I received $425 as "welcome" money, public benefits, and Medicaid for eight months. Six months after arrival, I stared working. Since then, we didn't receive any aid from the government. Today, six out of eight of my family members are working. As a new American myself, I told her that refugees are contributors to the American economy--not simply consumers. She seemed well-convinced and promised that she'll support future refugee bills and that she'll also advocate for New Americans."

Other teams from LSG introduced lawmakers to "New Americans" who told their resettlement stories. Many legislators and staff members were moved by hearing firsthand accounts of refugees who have taken long, often difficult journeys to arrive at their new homes in America.

Our goal for the day was to inform legislators about the many contributions refugees and other New Americans make to our state and communities. We found that many legislators agreed with us. One responded to a thank-you email by writing, "It is easy to celebrate new citizens!" We certainly agree.

To get the facts about refugees in Georgia that we shared with legislators, click here. For more information about the Coalition of Refugee Services Agencies, click here.