Immigration for Dummies?

Written by Lynn Buske
Edited by Perla Martinez-Beltran, Joyce Anderson, and Lidixe Montoya

There is a lot going on in the world of immigration and around refugees these days. As a result, I’ve been learning a lot from our Immigration Task Force leaders, from our partnership with Welcoming New Neighbors, from our Religious Leaders discussion, from my friend Lidixe, and from having conversations with a lot of people about these topics. The biggest takeaway from all of this has been realizing how much confusion is out there. 

I share with you now some updates from the Task Force and give some basic understanding about these issues, assuming some of you are like me, having little knowledge on this topic.

When I started at JONAH almost 6 years ago I knew NOTHING about this topic. As it was something JONAH had a long history of working on, I wanted to understand as much as I could. Truth is, I keep learning every day and there is much more to learn. In my opinion, to fully understand and form opinions about anything takes a long, intentional effort. My years of meeting some of the families impacted by immigration issues has deepened my desire to support it.

Why does JONAH work in Immigration?

Our values are: unconditional love, inclusion, reparation, and living for the future. Our work on Immigration issues does not mean we want to “open the borders”, it simply means – there are humans suffering in my neighborhood and we want to be there as neighbors, not enemies. Legal or not legal, no human should be abused and suffer trauma or not be able to access resources needed to survive.

Our task force historically has worked with other organizations to support people through their citizenship and other legal matters, extensively build relationships so everyone who feels unsafe about this issue (especially those families impacted) can feel safe or at least safer, advocate for drivers’ cards to keep people safe, tell stories to build connection and understanding, and help provide access to resources that help families thrive.


Before I share more of what the JONAH Immigration Task Force has been doing most recently, I want to explain the difference between an immigrant and a refugee. While each family coming into our country has their own complex story, these two words seem to cause much confusion.

An immigrant is someone who is moving to this country. Immigrants come from all over the world, not just Mexico. According to a study by Pew Research in 2018, 13% of American Immigrants come from Europe and Canada, 23% from Asia, 21% from Other Latin countries, and 29% come from Mexico. There are a variety of ways that entrance to this country happens. Each immigrant’s story is unique to their situation, but it is always a lengthy, cumbersome, and expensive process. Work visas are hard to come by. Someone fleeing unfortunate circumstances might sometimes come here first and then work on the legal part later. Sometimes people come here legally, then things happen to take that status away. Often, in that circumstance, they are countryless, even though they might be married to someone here.  

Someone arriving without legal documents would only do so under great duress and concern for them and their children. Immigrating illegally is a really big deal. From my understanding, there is always a powerful story behind such immigration, often a story of self-sacrifice, as this is also a near-impossible task. Many people die trying to come. When we talk about illegal immigration, it can mean many different things, but the two most common ways are: 

  1. EWI, which is people coming across the border without being interviewed by immigration officials, and
  2. When people overstay their visas.

Organizations that sponsor people to request legal asylum in our country, often because of life-threatening circumstances, must often totally support the individual and family for about two years because the work visas are so difficult to obtain.

Refugees are people who need a safe place during times of war – fleeing their homeland, often temporarily, in order to save their life from life-threatening circumstances. Refugees are generally  more universally accepted, but achieving refugee status is just as hard to do legally as immigration. A refugee must prove their need and have witnesses to their plight. A refugee also  can stay only for a limited time, unless they choose to go through citizenship. A refugee often waits eagerly to go back home. A refugee will often arrive with other family members and hope ultimately to return to their home country with their family.

A refugee and an immigrant are not the same thing. While all refugees are technically immigrants, not all immigrants are refugees. A refugee can become a permanent immigrant, and many immigrants need refugee status and do not get it. In all cases, there is so much paperwork and complicated processes, they require support to stay here legally while they work through the system.

Here is what our task force has been doing:

–  Seeking a pro bono immigration lawyer or law clinic, because so many people need legal counsel to fill out forms correctly and start the legal immigration paperwork. People are not aware of their rights as undocumented immigrants and are often taken advantage of, or are given incorrect information. A lot of people do not have the means to pay for an expensive lawyer and usually face court cases alone and are vulnerable against a prosecuting attorney and/or judge.

– Working with partners on a diversion process so if people get pulled over while driving without a license, they are not ticketed but put in a drivers’ education class.

– Continuing for 10 years to advocate for driver’s cards – which was a thing until the Real ID was introduced, making a Social Security Card necessary in order to obtain a driver’s license. This has resulted in many people unable to safely drive and/or not know our laws, and has created a lasting fear of being deported, separated from family, and sent back to a potentially dangerous country. This 2023 year is the most hope they have ever had as several senators who in the past have dismissed this concern are now on board and even interested in co-signing a bill.

– Developing a resource brochure for families new to the area.

– Collaborating with the city of Eau Claire and other groups to welcome the World Relief office to Eau Claire. World Relief is a resettlement agency that deals only with refugees who have been vetted by the U.S. government. JONAH and the City of EC welcome them here. Please visit to see a public statement and factual information on this topic.

– Planning another Multicultural Fest for 2024, because in 2023 hundreds of attendees learned just how many people from different cultures live in the Chippewa Valley!

– Partnering with, and umbrellaing, Welcoming New Neighbors on refugee resettlement work.

How Can You Help?

Our Religious Leaders discussed this topic recently and our task force shared how congregations can be helpful in supporting people impacted by immigration and refugees. Contact Joyce at [email protected] or Lynn at [email protected] with your willingness to help do any of these things:

  • Go to the border and see what it’s like. Then make your opinions.
  • Invite the task force to your church!
  • Have your congregants ask questions and bring those to the task force.
  • Get to know your neighbors – this is the most important and most impactful. For example, Joyce and Dave Anderson didn’t realize for many years that they had non-English speaking neighbors living right next door.
  • Volunteer to drive for literacy classes.
  • Bring AMMPARO (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities) to your church to do an immigration simulation. It is a commitment by the ELCA, as a church in the world, to accompany vulnerable children today and in the future. The word “amparo” in Spanish means the protection of a living creature from suffering or damage
  • Reach out to the Neighbor To Neighbor mission, an ELCA effort to connect with and support Latino American families in the area.
  • Borrow the Reader’s Theatre book and share anonymous stories of local Immigrant families.
  • Let your church borrow JONAH’s “World Table” and encourage intentional conversations on ancestry, culture experiences, and get to know someone different from you.