Run for the Immigration Project!

Run for the Immigration Project at the Illinois Marathon!

We have some big news… we are one of the official charity partners of the 2020 Illinois Marathon!

For those who don’t know, this annual event is held by Christie Clinic around the Champaign-Urbana community. Loads of volunteers, community members, university students, and more come out to support the runners and help make this event possible. This upcoming year’s marathon will be April 23-25, 2020. 

The marathon has races for all skill levels, so sign up today and start raising for the Immigration Project! See below for further instructions on how to register to run for us:

Not a runner? That’s okay! Supporters can donate to a runner or team raising money for the Immigration Project, or follow this link to donate directly. Anything is greatly appreciated, and we thank you for your support.

Public Charge Policy Update

Have you heard about the change in policy on Public Charge? Have you been confused as to how the change will apply to you or the immigrant community? Check out our informative video explaining everything about it!

¿Ha escuchado sobre el cambio de la política de carga pública? ¿Está confundido sobre cómo este cambio aplicará a su caso y/o a la comunidad de inmigrantes? ¡Le invitamos a ver nuestro video informativa que explica todo!



Money Order Update

Government fee policy change: Immigration agencies like USCIS and other federal agencies are NO LONGER accepting cashier’s checks or money orders. They are now only accepting checks from personal bank accounts and credit/debit/pre-paid cards.

Cambio de políticas en pagos y tarifas: Las agencias gubernamentales de inmigración, como el USCIS y otros agencias federales, YA NO ACEPTAN cheques de cajero o giros postales: “money orders”. Solamente aceptaran cheques bancarios de cuentas personales y tarjetas de créditos/débitos/prepagadas.

Fast for Families Campaign



Immigrants in our community are living in fear. Some are workers who endure exploitation from bosses, who use their immigration status as a threat. Others are children, who from a very young age, know the risk and fear that their parents might be torn from them at any moment. Others are dreamers, brought to the U.S. as children, living in D.A.C.A. limbo, watching their dreams fade away as the program expires. Some are women, who suffer in abusive relationships but are too afraid to call out for help.

On  Sunday, March 25, 2018 at 7pm, community members across McLean County came together outside of Bloomington City Hall to begin a fast in solidarity with undocumented families, and in support of the “Welcoming City” ordinance. The fast continued into the following day. On Monday, March 26, 2018 at 6pm, we invited our Bloomington City Council members to “come back to the table” with their commitment to work with the community to pass a “Welcoming City Ordinance” and break the fast.

To read more about this amazing event, click on the following link:


Our Immigration Stories: Immigration Project Intern Abigaelle Ngamboma

Whether they came over the Bering Strait, on the Mayflower, or are first generation Americans, our staff and volunteers are guided by their own immigration stories in everything that they do serving immigrants in downstate Illinois. These are the immigration stories of our agency.

This is Abigaelle Ngamboma’s Immigration Story


Abigaelle joined the Immigration Project as an intern in 2016. She provides valuable service to our agency through case work and French and Lingala translation and interpretation.

Abigaelle’s family came to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) when her mother was granted a visa through the Diversity Immigrant Visa program. In addition to her mother, she came with her father, and two sisters. The Diversity Immigrant Visa program provides visas to people from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States.

Her family lived in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Abigaelle was nine years old when she moved to the United States and still remembers Kinshasa. Her dad was an engineer and her mom worked as a secretary. Abigaelle went to a Catholic elementary school where she was an excellent student. There were some realities of life in the DRC that she was not aware of because of her age. Abigaelle recalls one night when gunmen were in the street outside of her home. She, along with her cousin and sister, locked themselves in the house, turned off all of the lights, and waited for the shooting to stop. It was the most vivid memory she had of political instability in the DRC.

While political instability in the DRC was concerning, education was the primary reason her parents wanted to come to the United States. Education was very important, especially to her father, and while she attended a very good school in the DRC they knew moving to the United States would allow Abigaelle  and her sisters to access opportunities not available in Kinshasa. Her parents sold everything so they could move to the United States. They lived well in the DRC, but adjusting to life in the United States was a still a struggle for her family. Like many immigrants, when they arrived the education her parents had received in the DRC was not recognized in the United States, which made finding employment difficult.

Abigaelle remembers when the family first arrived to the United States. They landed in Chicago where it was snowing, she had never seen snow before. She slept the entire car ride to her new home in Champaign.

While she was an excellent student, she was held back a grade when she registered for school in the United States. However, she was still advanced in many subjects and often found herself bored in class. At the same time the rapid speed of English spoken by her peers was challenging. Since she was a young child it was easier to for her learn English and eventually speak at the same speed of her classmates. Her ESL teacher, Madame Ho, helped her family, as well as many other immigrant families, transition to life in the United States. “At school you are trying to learn the language, at home you have to keep your language so you have to be find balance between speaking the language and learning,” Abigaelle explains, summarizing the challenge many immigrant youth face in education and at home. Her parents also took classes in order to learn English, but as adults it was more difficult for them. Her mom currently takes classes in an effort to improve her English. She uses English at work, but wants to continue improving her English skills.

Abigaelle’s family planned to stay in the United States permanently even though her late grandparents and other family members remained in the DRC. She remembers her mother studying English and civics for the citizenship test. Abigaelle also recalls the financial burdens and masses of paperwork her mother had to navigate on her path to citizenship. As an intern with the Immigration Project she has developed an even deeper appreciation and understanding for the immense challenges her mother conquered to become a US citizen. Abigaelle was still a child when her mother naturalized and also became a US citizen.  However, her sisters were too old and had to naturalize on their own. Her father also naturalized a few years later.

The DRC is almost always portrayed as a country overwhelmed with political corruption, poverty, and violence. However, this is not the country Abigaelle remembers. The Democratic Republic of Congo has many people who want to see the DRC improve and take advantage of the natural resources abundant in the country to help their country. Congolese citizens are working hard to improve conditions and Abigaelle is hopeful for the future.

“It is not as if everyone is trying to flee the DRC,” she added when asked what she wanted people to understand about the DRC. Her cousin attends university in the DRC and is part of  a new generation of people who have the desire to rebuild the DRC. “It is not hopeless. They’re not hopeless,” She said.

Abigaelle’s family may have planned to stay forever, but she might not. With the knowledge and skills she is acquiring during her time in the United States she wants to go join that new generation of Congolese youth trying to improve the conditions within the country.


By Hanna Tarbert

Our Immigration Stories: Thalia Novoa, Volunteer Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA

Whether they came over the Bering Strait, on the Mayflower, or are first generations Americans, our staff and volunteers are guided by their own immigration stories in everything that they do in serving immigrants in downstate Illinois. These are the immigration stories of our agency.

This is Thalia Novoa’s Immigration Story.

thaliawebpageThalia first joined the Immigration Project as an intern in 2013. She became the  Volunteer Coordinator AmeriCorps VISTA in 2016.  

Thalia is descended from Mexican immigrants through her mother and father. Her ancestors lived in the south of Mexico, primarily in Tequesquitlan Jalisco. It is a small rural community about three hours from the west coast. She still has family in Tequesquitlan Jalisco and like her ancestors they are still farmers and bee keepers.

Her parents both were born and raised in the same town in Tequesquitlan Jalisco. Her father left Mexico as a teenager and traveled to California and Nevada seeking economic opportunities as a laborer, he eventually reunited with his family in Illinois. Her mother also left Mexico for the United States as a teenager. Her mother reunited with her family in Chicago where she became a waitress. While the two had dated back in Mexico they had not left for the United States together. It was not until the 1990s that they would meet again in Illinois, marry and start a family.

Her family faced the same obstacles many families with mixed immigration status face: separation. As the daughter of undocumented parents Thalia grew up with the constant threat of having one or both of her parents deported. When her mother applied for legal permanent residence in 1998 she was put in deportation proceedings instead. Thalia was only eight years old. She accompanied her mother to immigration court and spoke with the judge upon whom her family’s fate rested. As a child at the time she did not know how important this day was. Her mother’s attorney was candid about her mother’s chances, stating that there was, “only a one in the million chance,” that her mother would win her case and remain with her children in the United States.

Thalia’s family was lucky. The judge saw that her mother worked and paid taxes, and like other immigrants throughout the history of the United States, came her for opportunity and family. He also understood that deporting her mother would be detrimental to Thalia, who was born a US citizen. Her mother later became a legal permanent resident and a United States citizen in 2015.

However, Thalia’s father had a longer path to legal permanent residency. It was not until Thalia became an adult that her father was able to become a legal permanent resident. Once her father resolved his status Thalia could finally find peace with knowledge that her family could never be taken away from her.

Thalia’s family is just one in a long tradition of immigration to the United States going back to before the founding of the country. They left a poor rural community and worked hard. Unlike many generations of immigrants who arrived prior to the United States government’s implementation of restrictive and discriminatory immigration policies during the twentieth century, deportation by the United States government has become a real and constant risk for the undocumented parents of US citizen children. The standards applied to immigrants today put families like Thalia’s at constant risk of separation.

By Hanna Tarbert

Our Immigration Stories: Rebekah Niblock Staff Attorney

Whether they came over the Bering Strait, the Mayflower, or are first generation Americans, our staff and volunteers are guided by their own immigration stories in everything that they do in serving immigrants in downstate Illinois. These are the immigration stories of our agency.

This is Rebekah Niblock’s Immigration Story.


Rebekah Niblock has been an Immigration Project Staff Attorney since 2013.

She is the descendant of Scottish immigrants through her paternal line. They arrived throughout the 1700s to escape famine and political instability.  Her ancestors were among the earliest colonial settlers in the Appalachian regions of what later became the United States. Her immigration story is the story of two families: the Niblocks and the Caldwells.

Rebekah’s Caldwell ancestors have a rich history. The Caldwells were sailors and other sea-farers that served and worked  in the Mediterranean during the fourteenth century. Afterward, they settled in France where they remained until religious persecution under King Francis I forced them to flee to Scotland.

Upon arriving in Scotland they purchased land under the condition that they would send sons and fighting men to help King James V of Scotland.

One of the Caldwells, John Caldwell, married and relocated to Ireland, as many of Rebekah’s Scottish ancestors would do prior to resettling in the colonies. John did not feel Ireland was safe for his new family and sought to join family members already in the American colonies.

The Caldwell family arrived in the colony of Delaware in 1727, then relocated to Lancaster, Pennsylvania and later relocated again, this time in Virginia in 1742. Other Caldwells joined them to Virginia and formed the “Caldwell Settlement.” Many descendants of the Caldwell Settlement also relocated to other colonies and, after the American Revolution, different states throughout the east coast.

Her ancestor that bears her surname, William Niblock, came to North Carolina circa 1750. He arrived with other colonists to Pennsylvania and settled in the northwest corner of Rowan County, North Carolina.

William was a Scotsman who, prior to arriving to North Carolina, moved to Ireland seeking better economic and political conditions. However, famine in Ireland and continued political turmoil compelled him to seek new opportunities in the colonial United States. The land William was able to purchase remains in the Niblock family.

Today Rebekah helps many people with immigration stories similar to her own ancestors. Hundreds of years ago John Caldwell sought to reunite with family already in the Americas. Now, Rebekah helps clients sort through the complicated immigration system that often stands as an obstacle between them and family reunification.

Rebekah helps immigrants fleeing persecution as her own ancestors fled religious persecution in France and later fled political turmoil in Scotland and Ireland. Today Rebekah’s ancestors would have been called “asylee seekers” or “refugees.”

Her ancestors also made the journey to the colonies in order to escape famine in Ireland. Countries in such dire conditions today sometimes qualify for “temporary protected status,” something Rebekah helps immigrants in downstate Illinois apply and re-apply for today.

The Immigration Project is the principal provider of high quality low cast immigration legal services in downstate Illinois. To learn more about our mission and how you can contribute please visit us at, you can also like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.


By Hanna Tarbert


Guatemala is a small Central American country that is part of the “Northern Triangle,” which includes El Salvador and Honduras. In 1954, after 10 years of democratic governance, a CIA-backed coup installed Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas. His dictatorship was notorious for acts of mass repression, human rights violations, sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), and the use of death squads. While the world focuses on Syria and Iraq as source countries for people fleeing violence, large numbers of Guatemalans and other Central Americans, especially young people are forced to flee their homes.

Immigration Project Staff Attorney Rebekah Niblock noted that Guatemalans in downstate Illinois come to the United States to escape numerous forms of violence. She stated that in addition to gang and domestic violence, land-disputes and extreme poverty forced Guatemalans to flee to the United States. Niblock observed that these issues greatly impact indigenous populations, especially Mayans who often do not speak Spanish or English.


Map obtained from BBC World News

Guatemala has not fully recovered from civil war, which began in 1960 and raged for 36 years. Coups, assassinations, SGBV, and enforced disappearances were common throughout the civil war. Indigenous populations were subjected to extreme brutality during the 1980s in ‘scorched earth’ tactics conducted by the military. “There’s always war,” a former Immigration Project client and immigration advocate said when describing why he came to the United States. “If they know what I am doing they might kill me if I go back,” said our former client, who wished to remain anonymous, as he shared his experience of violence in the 1980s and offered insight into the current situation in Guatemala.

“Basically the military took over, they said there were four groups (anti-government guerillas), but we never saw them. They (the military) burned the village down that was close to my village. We worked in the fields and saw smoke. An old man staring out toward the smoke, he said, ‘they just burned our brothers and sisters,’ and it was true. The army got there the night before and spent the night in the bushes. They said there were enemies. They were waiting for them to come home. In the morning they gathered them (the villagers) and told them they were having a meeting. They put them in the church and opened fire. They burned the building down with them in it. There were rumors that before they burned the church down the soldiers raped all the women. But who knows,” he said. During the civil war at least 50,000 women were victims of violence and rape was used as a weapon of war, especially against indigenous communities.

“I don’t remember the year they came to my village. I was working the land when all of a sudden I was told to drop my weapon.” His ‘weapon’ was a small hand-made garden hoe. “They took us and tied our hands. There were more guys with us. They were actually the ones they (the military) wanted not me. I had been picked up accidentally. They lined the guys up and started to torture them. I didn’t see it but I heard everything. I can hear the screaming. ‘Oh God why is this happening?’ A soldier said, ‘Your God ain’t gonna be here to rescue you.’”

The torture went on for several hours as the soldiers searched the village for weapons and ammunition, but found none. None of the villagers were anti-military fighters. “They were all innocent,” our client recalled. The soldiers killed the men they had tortured. They stabbed them with their hands still tied behind their backs. In 1999 a UN truth commission found that 93% of all massacres, tortures, disappearances, and assassinations during the war were the fault of the Guatemalan military. In 2004 the UN found that though the war was over crime, social injustice, and human rights violations remained high, in large part due to rampant gang violence.

During the civil war Guatemalan asylee seekers faced many obstacles when applying for asylum, consequently immigration advocates and religious groups initiated a lawsuit known as the “ABC Lawsuit,” which claimed Guatemalan and Salvadoran asylee seekers were being discriminated against in 1985. The lawsuit was settled in 1990 and  resulted in the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA), which allowed many Guatemalans and Salvadorans that fell within specified dates to apply for and receive asylum. Staff Attorney Charlotte Alvarez noted some older Guatemalan migration flows into downstate Illinois during the 1980s were able to receive permanent residency through NACARA. However, due to the time sensitive nature of NACARA, it does not apply to the thousands of Guatemalans currently fleeing to the United States.

Since 1990 the United States government has been able to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to foreign nationals who cannot safely return to their country due to situations such as natural disasters, armed conflict, and other extraordinary temporary conditions. TPS provides deportation relief and the ability to obtain work authorization. While El Salvador and Honduras, the two other corners of the Northern Triangle, have TPS status Guatemala does not despite multiple application attempts. Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, located in Chicago, wrote to the New York Times that Guatemala needs TPS status and all that truly prevents Guatemala from gaining it is “the will to act.”

When asked about Guatemala now our former client said, “I think our life is never free. The government is always up to something. The people do not want (hydroelectric) mines because it will make them sick. The government does not care, they want the mine and the money. No one cares about the about the people. So the towns try to stand up for themselves. They have their own leader and the whole town will be behind him. But because of this they will kill him.” Not all local leaders who resist the government are killed. Our client recalled the fate of another community leader. “They came and got him. I’m sure it was the government because they took him with a helicopter. They tied him to the frame underneath. He was accused of stupid stuff and he’s still locked up now. If people know the government is coming for a (hydroelectric) mine they go block the road, they’ll chop down trees to block the road. When they come they have machines and soldiers that just push them aside and they go through anyway.”

Conflicts between villagers, mainly indigenous subsistence farmers, and the government seeking to claim land for projects, such as hydroelectric mines, is not a new issue in Guatemala. 400 people were killed in 1982 and even more were displaced, tortured and raped for resisting government efforts to build the Chixoy mine. Despite widespread protests, internal displacement, and illnesses caused by pollution, the government still pursues its construction projects.

“Along with all this (government corruption) there are bad guys who’re organized. They go around and steal and kidnap kids. They’ll steal the young people to make them be with them. They steal girls to be with them or end up raping them. They’re very afraid,” our client explained about the current situation facing Guatemalan youth.

According to the UN, Guatemala and other Central American countries have come under the control of “sophisticated’ domestic and international organized crime groups. Since 2008 the UNHCR documented a massive increase in people from Central America fleeing gang violence. Young males often flee because local gangs threaten to kill them if they do not become gang members. A surge in violence against women is why many Guatemalan women and girls come to the United States. The UNODC found that Guatemala has the third highest rate of female homicide, whereas it ranked sixth in the world for overall homicide rate. According to Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Aldana in a statement to BBC News, “The difference in Guatemala between the murder of a woman and of a man is that the woman is made to suffer before death, she is raped, mutilated, and beaten.” While courts were set up to address femicide in Guatemala their capacity to address the problem is very limited.

The UNHCR found women who flee Guatemala were taking contraceptives before the journey because the risk of rape from the men, or ‘coyotes,’ paid to transport them from Guatemala to the United States is so high. However, many women felt they had no other option as those who tried to relocate within Guatemala were followed and harassed by gang members. These conditions directly contributed to the flood of unaccompanied minors into the United States in 2014. With ongoing corruption, limited capacity, poverty, and persistent gang violence Guatemalans will continue coming to the United States.

“Some kids have family up here,” our client says about the children coming to downstate Illinois. “Their mothers and fathers are here (in the United States) so they don’t get the same love (in Guatemala) as they would from their mother and father. These kids are 16, 17, girls and boys, they realize there is no life for them in Guatemala or the United States. They are not sure if they can stay, because they might get sent back to Guatemala. I’m not sure if they would die, but some will.”

“I tell them to pray to God. That maybe one day when we die maybe we’ll have a place in heaven,” is what our former client turned advocate tells the children and their parents who come to the United States and face risk of deportation. The Immigration Project will continue to assist unaccompanied Guatemalan youth and undocumented immigrants in downstate Illinois, but without action comparable to NACARA or TPS it remains an immense legal challenge.


By Hanna Tarbert


Komi and Family

Komi and his family

The number of people from Togo assisted by the Immigration Project is increasing and staff members expect this trend to continue. “In Africa we always talk about coming to the United States,” says former Immigration Project client Komi. “This is the country where we have a lot of opportunities to have a better life. That’s why I came here.” Komi graduated with a degree in Political Science and International Studies from Western Illinois University. He currently works for the Illinois Department of Human Services. “My dreams became a reality.” Komi said when asked about how his life had changed since coming to the United States from Togo. Like Komi, many Togolese clients come to the Immigration Project seeking assistance applying for citizenship and bring family members over to Togo, according to Executive Director and Senior Staff Attorney Jasmine McGee.

Shortly after Togo gained independence from France in 1960 Gnassingbe Eyadema seized power in 1967 through a coup and held power until his death in 2005. His son became president after his passing and remains in power. Though Eyadema’s son allowed more multi-party participation political stability remains elusive, due to the questionable legitimacy of elections and rampant corruption. According to the World Bank in 2014, corruption was especially high among prison officials, police officers, and judicial officials.

Despite growth in recent years, Togo is an impoverished nation with a life expectancy of only 59 for men and 61 for women. Since 1982, the United Nations has classified Togo as one of forty-eight “Least Developed Countries.” Poverty is especially prevalent among female-heads of household and in rural areas. According to UNICEF the Togolese population is nearly 7 million, but over 3 million Togolese are children under the age of 18, 1 million of whom are under the age of 5.


Map obtained from BBC World News

In 2015 the World Bank found that Togo had an infant mortality rate of 52 per 1,000 live births, whereas the United States’ rate was 6. UNICEF found the mortality rate for children under 5 to be 85 per 1,000 live births. HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria remain major causes of death in Togo. The CDC also found higher levels of typhoid, yellow fever, and meningitis in Togo. Poor health conditions are exacerbated due to inadequate sanitation. In 2015 the WHO found Togolese had the third worst access to toilets in the world, with only 10% access in many rural areas of Togo.


Togo is a very diverse nation in terms of ethnicity, with an estimated twenty to forty different ethnic groups. There is not a majority religion practiced in Togo. Scholars from the University of Lome estimate that 33% practice traditional indigenous religions, 28% are Roman Catholics, 14% Sunni Muslims, 20% Protestant and 5% are unaffiliated. It is also not uncommon for Togolese Muslims and Christians to also participate in indigenous religious practices. The official language of Togo is French, but according to Pew Research Center there are approximately thirty-nine different languages spoken in Togo.

Like many nations Togo has issues combating human trafficking, with most Togolese victims of trafficking being children. Child laborers are fairly common in agriculture, stone quarries, construction, mines, salvage yards, domestic servitude and prostitution.   “Most of our Togolese clients seek educational opportunities. The greatest obstacle many face are related to English language.” McGee explains. Togo is a French speaking country. “A lot of Togolese work in factories, especially in Galesburg and Beardstown while they learn English.”

The International Organization for Migration reported that in 2015 5.77% of Togo’s citizens lived outside their country of origin.Togolese immigration to the United States increased during the 1980s as the political situation grew increasingly unstable and extreme poverty persisted. “Many of our Togolese clients come over on the Diversity Visa,” explains McGee. There are a limited number of Diversity Visas available to people from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. No country may receive more than 7% of available Diversity Visas. With decades of continuous poverty, government corruption, and inadequate resources to remedy either, Togolese immigration will continue, especially through opportunities such as the Diversity Visa, during the twenty-first century.


Written by AmeriCorps VISTA Hanna Tarbert

Maya Flores AmeriCorps VISTA End of Service

mayThe Immigration Project extends its deepest thanks and appreciation to AmeriCorps VISTA Maya Flores for her year of service. Friday, July 15 is Maya’s last day of the AmeriCorps VISTA project at the Immigration Project. Maya is returning to Chicago to work for the Illinois Bar Foundation.

Executive Director and Staff Attorney Jasmine McGee recalls Maya’s year of service: “Maya was an exemplary AmeriCorps VISTA! She came to the Immigration Project committed to our cause and ready to give a year of service. Everyone who met her noted how professional and capable she was, and she quickly built relationships with new and past supporters. She found innovative ways to share the work of the Project. I have no doubt that she will continue to find new and innovative ways to further the legal access for low income individuals at the Illinois Bar Foundation.”

Capacity and Volunteer Development Director Christine Howe, reflecting on Maya’s service


Maya listening to Client Stories at Nuns on the Bus event

said “I’m so glad Maya has given a year of her life to us!  She is a friendly
co-worker and has proven her adaptability and skill over and over again in
her year with us.  From her first days when we were moving office locations,
throughout as she helped me with better outreach, and these last as she
continues with organizing fundraisers through skillful collaboration among
the different interests.  She will be as asset wherever she goes both for
helping accomplish the goals and projects of the agency and as a valuable
and friendly team member.  I’m so glad she’s given a year to us!”


The staff, volunteers, Board members, and committee members extended their deepest gratitude to Maya for the work she has done over the past year. She has created a strong foundation that will help the Immigration Project grow and expand for years to come.