“Be The Laborer”

 Illinois Pastor and Immigration Project Hero on Immigration and The Bible. 

Each year, the Immigration Project presents an “Immigration Hero” award to recognize important work being done in our network to help the immigrant populations of downstate Illinois. Most recently, we presented the award to Todd and Ana Franks, a former pastor at Maple City Baptist Church in Monmouth, Illinois and his wife. The Franks first became involved with the Immigration Project in 2016, and since then have been real advocates for immigrant rights and the immigrants in their own community. Here, Todd has written TIP’s first-ever guest blog post focusing on his experiences with immigrants in Monmouth, Illinois, and his biblically-based understanding of immigration. 

Be The Laborer

By Todd Franks

In December of 2018, a family of six landed at the Peoria International Airport around 10 p.m. Nearly thirty hours before, their journey began at the Kinshasa N’Djili Airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They arrived in Peoria tired, scared, hungry, and overwhelmed. Despite those feelings, they were also hopeful and excited about the opportunities awaiting them in the United States. After the hour-long drive to Monmouth, my friend and I helped the family carry their suitcases into their new, too-small apartment. Though it was now past midnight, Congolese neighbors soon arrived with fufu and other food familiar to the family. I said good night and went home, wondering what they might be thinking and feeling. I asked God to protect them and to show them that He loves them while making them comfortable and helping them know that He is with them no matter where they live.

Over the next few months, I visited their apartment frequently. As I got to know the family, I grew to love them and to be concerned about their needs. The three older children soon enrolled in school and needed much support to get started and to be successful. Navigating the American school system was daunting. On top of just participating in school, the children needed health insurance, school physicals, and vaccinations. Their parents needed jobs and transportation. They needed food. They needed to stay warm. In Kinshasa, the average temperature in January is around 70 degrees. In Monmouth, the average temperature in January is closer to 20 degrees. To say the family was cold is an understatement.

As I worked to meet their physical needs, I began to develop a friendship with the family. At the same time, a group of my friends from church started to get involved in their lives, and we also began to meet spiritual and emotional needs. The family became involved in our church and we prayed, talked, and studied the Bible together. What started as a ride from the airport soon developed into real relationships.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus notices a group of hurting and vulnerable people. Chapter nine, verse thirty-six says: “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” (KJV). Jesus looks out on a group of people and what he sees – hurt and vulnerability –  moves him to compassion. Immigrants are all around us. Whether you live in a small town or a large city, there are likely immigrants in your community. Do you see them? Do you want to see them? 

Jesus saw the scattered sheep, but it wasn’t enough for him to just see them; He was moved with compassion for them. It wasn’t enough for him to acknowledge them. It wasn’t even enough for Jesus to talk to them. He was moved with compassion. He was so full of love for a hurting group of people that he had to do something about it. In 1 John, the Bible speaks of compassion that comes from the bowels, or the deepest part of us. Compassion isn’t a fleeting emotion, compassion comes from deep within. When a feeling comes from somewhere this deep, that feeling must be reckoned with. We must respond to it. 

Though Jesus is not specifically talking about immigrants in this verse in Matthew, we can use it to inform how we think about and treat immigrants. Just moving to a new country is strenuous. Learning that place’s culture and language is overwhelming. Many immigrants work body-punishing, physical labor jobs that leave them exhausted and allow little time for much else. 

Not only are they fainting from exhaustion, but immigrants have literally been scattered abroad. Whatever the reason for coming to the United States, the fact remains that, as a group, they are scattered abroad. Even after the initial culture shock wears off, most immigrants live the rest of their lives “getting used to” life here, and I’m not sure cultural assimilation is something that is ever fully accomplished. This feeling of being scattered remains years after arriving in another country.

Jesus likens the tired, scattered people he sees to sheep. This is not meant to be an insult. I’m not saying that immigrants are helpless creatures whose survival is in constant peril. Immigrants are some of the most resilient, independent, courageous, and hard-working people I know. However, the comparison to sheep is useful. Sheep need help. They need direction. They are vulnerable. I’ve seen immigrants taken advantage of in their workplaces, in their housing situations, at schools, and in places of business all over town. As minorities with less-than-perfect English, immigrants are often subject to mistreatment. They struggle to defend themselves, and this is where we come in. 

If you are reading this article, you must have some interest in immigration, and you may even desire to get involved in immigrants’ lives in some way. If you continue to read Matthew 9 through the end of the chapter, Jesus tells his followers to pray for laborers. Those laborers are the men and women who will go out into the world and get involved in the lives of the sheep, and there are so many simple ways to get involved. You can find a local church or organization that is offering English or citizenship classes, or search online for a nonprofit that is meeting the needs of immigrants and volunteer with them. Call the Immigration Project. I’ve never known a group that works with immigrants to have enough workers, so ignore your fears and apprehensions and get involved. 

Knowing the state of immigrants is important. What we do with that knowledge is even more important. Sheep needs shepherds. Those shepherds must be active; they cannot shepherd from the comforts of their living rooms. Shepherds live and interact with their sheep daily and they are actively involved with every aspect of their sheep’s lives. We must bridge cultural and linguistic divides and be shepherds to the sheep in our lives. What I’ve come to realize is that caring for sheep isn’t a one-way street. When we care for weary, scattered, and vulnerable people, God allows them to care for us and touch us in ways we never imagined.

It’s been more than a year since that trip to the airport, and the family I first met that night has been through a lot. It’s been a privilege to know them and be a part of milestones in their immigrant journey. As the years pass, I pray they will start to see their immigrant brothers and sisters as sheep in need of a shepherd, and I pray that we, as a community and a nation, will continue to welcome the most vulnerable people from around the world.

Todd and Ana Franks, the 2019 Immigration Project Heroes.
Pictured here with TIP Executive Director, Charlotte Alvarez; Chair of the Development and Outreach Committee, Laurie Bergner; and Board President David Hirst.

Share Todd’s words on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, or Instagram with this image!


Monmouth Citizenship Workshop. Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.

On Saturday, Feb. 15th, the Immigration Project will be hosting a citizenship workshop in Monmouth, IL for those who are ready to become US citizens.

Download Flyer and Instructions Below

Illinois Marijuana Legalization and Immigration Law

Following the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, it is important for foreign nationals living in the State of Illinois to know that marijuana use remains illegal at the federal level. The purchase, use, and sale of marijuana remains a crime that carries immigration consequences. It is also important to know that a conviction is not necessary to trigger removal proceedings and other consequences: any admission of use or evidence of use is enough for serious immigration consequences. Complete avoidance is the best way to protect your immigration status.


In other states that have legalized adult, recreational marijuana use there have been cases of non-citizens facing complications with their immigration-related application because of marijuana related work. In these instances, even low-level involvement in the marijuana industry has challenged the establishment of good moral character, and in some cases has been considered as drug trafficking. Similarly, foreign nationals that co-habit with regular marijuana users or those that work in the marijuana industry may face penalties.


Please note that the expungements that are part of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act do not benefit immigrants and non-citizens. Even if the state expunges the record, the crime would still exist under federal laws; the individual in question has still committed a crime that has immigration consequences.


Medical marijuana use, while not an aspect of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, should not be used by non-citizens. Just as prior to January 1st, non-citizens that are considering the use of medical marijuana should first seek a legal consultation. Similarly, CBD (cannabidiol) oils are best avoided.


It is important to understand the implications of online activity and social media use regarding drugs and drug use. Any posts, photographs, tagged photos, or tweets that could link a person to involvement with marijuana use could be considered as an admission of use as well as call their moral character into question.

As of January 1, 2020 recreational marijuana use is legal in the State of Illinois for adults over the age of 21. Under the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, HB 1438, Illinois is one of eleven US states that have legalized the purchase and use of certain amounts of recreational marijuana for adults. Despite this state-level legalization, marijuana use remains a federal crime. This means that even though the regulated purchase, sale, and consumption of recreational marijuana is legal in Illinois, federally an individual participating in these activities is breaking the law. This stipulation is of importance to immigrants, visa-holders, and all non-citizen foreign nationals living and working in the state of Illinois.

Immigration laws stem from the federal level, and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is a federal entity dealing with federal laws. Violation of any federal law means that an individual’s immigration status could be at risk. As such, involvement with marijuana can mean that a person is inadmissible or deportable because even if the involvement is legal in the state of Illinois, it remains a violation of federal law. The implementation of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act means that there are now two main areas of concern for non-citizens in Illinois: a) deportability and b) establishment of good moral character.

Violation of some federal laws can leave a person at risk for deportation or visa revocation; cannabis use violates the Controlled Substances Act, as marijuana is considered as a “Schedule I” controlled substance federally. For visa-holders, use of marijuana may result in the revocation of an individual’s visa. For lawful permanent residents, any criminal conviction other one single conviction for possession of less than 30 grams will make an individual deportable. Any “drug abusers or addicts” are also potentially deportable.

Establishment of Good Moral Character:
A key part of the naturalization process is the establishment of “good moral character,” and the citizenship application form poses a list of questions related to illicit and questionable activity including involvement with prostitution, alcoholism, and drug use. Naturalization applications can be denied citizenship if an individual is found to lack “good moral character.”

Last Updated: 1/6/2020

Download and share our marijuana use infographics here

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:  http://www.pantagraph.com/news/local/government-and-politics/welcoming-city-supporters-send-message-to-council/article_8ce5d271-9ae2-5496-9f33-08db0f1697cc.html


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  immigrationproject.org, you can also like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.


By Hanna Tarbert