Immigration Project News

“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.

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In order to do our part to help flatten the curve, The Immigration Project has implemented a number of measures in the face of COVID-19.

UPDATE APRIL 28, 2020: Physical closure of The Immigration Project offices will continue through June 1, 2020, in accordance with the extension of the Illinois Stay at Home Order.

As information regarding COVID-19 changes, and we hear about the growth in downstate Illinois cases, we at The Immigration Project have been given cause to evaluate our response policy. We want to be sure to update our clients, partners, volunteers and friends about the steps that we are taking as an agency in light of the pandemic, and alert you to changes to our normal operations. 

We are committed to taking the necessary precautions to protect our staff, interns, volunteers, and clients, and doing our part to help “flatten the curve.”  To date, we have implemented the following measures, which may be extended or changed as the situation evolves:

  • Our office will be closed to clients, volunteers, interns, and the public between March 23rd and April 12th.
  • All TIP clinics and workshops will be held remotely until May 1, 2020.
  • Our staff will be working remotely, as is feasible, from March 23rd to April 12th.
  • All non-essential business travel has been cancelled or postponed.
  • TIP has undergone facility cleaning processes.

If you, or someone you know, is in need of immigration legal aid please encourage them to continue to reach out to The Immigration Project via phone to (309) 829-8703 or e-mail to The Immigration Project is continuing to work to ensure access to justice for the immigrant populations of downstate Illinois, even during this difficult time.We will continue to monitor guidance and best practice from the CDC (Center for Disease Control), the State of Illinois, and the cities of Bloomington and Normal. 

Thank you for your continued support of The Immigration Project and the work that we do to support the immigrants of Central and Southern Illinois.

The New Public Charge Rule: Information for Immigrants in The State of Illinois

Over the last few months, the issue of Public Charge has been very present on the national stage; on February 24th, the new Public Charge Final Rule will go into effect.

A “Public Charge” is someone who is, or who is likely to become, dependent on government benefits and social services. The concept of a Public Charge is not new, but in August of 2019, USCIS published a change to the Public Charge Rule, increasing the number of considerations for inadmissibility as a public charge. Since then, numerous injunctions have been filed to prevent the rule from going into effect, including one injunction specific to the State of Illinois. Up until last week, (Feb. 17-22, 2020), Illinois was exempt from the new public charge rule because of that injunction. On February 21st , however, the Supreme Court decided to stay the injunction for the State of Illinois, meaning that immigrants in Illinois will be affected just as immigrants in other areas of the country.

The implementation of the new Public Charge Rule means that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of State will begin to deny admission to those likely to become a public charge under the new guidelines.

AS OF FEBRUARY 24, 2020: Anyone seeking to come to, or to stay in the United States (temporarily or on a permanent basis as a Legal Permanent Resident), will be subject to the criteria of the new Public Charge Rule. Under this rule, an individual will need to provide new, additional information in their application including information about their current health status, their education level ,their family, their income level, any assets or liabilities, and their history of receipt of any public benefits, in addition to an Affidavit of Support from a sponsor.

If an individual is using, or has used, any of the following public benefits, they will likely be considered inadmissible under the new Public Charge Rule: Cash Assistance for Income Maintenance (TANF, SSI, federal, state, and local assistance programs), SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, or Housing assistance (public housing, Section 8 housing vouchers, or rental assistance).

Some groups of people are excluded under the new Public Charge Rule. These groups are: asylees, refugees, applicants for U or T visas, applicants for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, VAWA self-petitioners, United States Citizens (including naturalized citizens), legal permanent residents (green card holders), applicants for temporary protected status, and applicants for the Cuban Adjustment Act.

There remain some benefits that are not included in the new rule. If an individual receives any of the following, it will not affect their public charge determination: benefits received by U.S. Armed Force Service Members, emergency medical care, WIC, CHIP, Pell Grants and Federal Student Loans, Tax-related cash benefits, unemployment benefits, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid received: a) by children under 21 years of age; b) during pregnancy or within 60 days of pregnancy; c) by individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

It is the view of The Immigration Project that this new rule places undue burden on certain demographics, including but not limited to: children, the elderly, and the disabled. That aside, the new rule has new evidence requirements which drastically increase the amount of work, documentation, and time required for each individual case. Ultimately, this change makes it much more difficult for low-income immigrants to become lawful permanent residents by the creation of additional barriers to admissibility.


“Deported To Danger” and the Reality of Deportation Proceedings in the United States.

Here at The Immigration Project, we are often asked about the impact and importance of our work, what it is that we do, and why it matters. Some aspects of our work are easier to explain than others, domestic violence is something common in the news and the social imagination, and people generally have a handle on what that means.  Deportation, however, is less frequently experienced – the average American probably doesn’t know someone who has been deported, and so what it really means for people can be much harder to explain, and much harder to understand. A recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), “Deported To Danger: United States Deportation Policies Expose Salvadorans to Death and Abuse,” shines a light on the realities and consequences of deportation for Salvadoran nationals, showing exactly what’s at stake for refugees and asylees to the USA.

Currently, around 1.2 million Salvadoran nationals are living in the United States; according to the HRW report, only about  a quarter of this population are legal permanent residents, or “green card” holders, with the rest finding themselves with precarious temporary legal status or undocumented. Paired with the fact that the fate of the U.S. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for El Salvador is increasingly uncertain, this means that Salvadorans are increasingly vulnerable and more at risk for deportation. 

People flee El Salvador in staggering numbers; it is the most violent country in the region with startling rates of murder, gang violence, disappearance, feminicide, sexual violence and state-actor violence. Many people from El Salvador arrive in the U.S. to seek asylum in a legal and desperate attempt to avoid the danger and human rights abuses that are common in El Salvador. Despite the well-documented presence of danger in El Salvador, between 2014 and 2018, over 100,000 Salvadorans were deported from the USA. The push-factors that spur people to leave El Salvador are a real threat to the safety and well being of Salvadoran citizens; “Deported to Danger ” reports that over 100 deported Salvadorans have been murdered following their deportation from the United States. Unfortunately, those murders do not represent the entirety of the problem; Salvadorans face multiple dimensions of violence, and the reality is that the harm that comes to Salvadoran deportees is likely under-reported and underestimated due to myriad influences including state capacity and the role that state-actor violence has to play. 

A key aspect of the report is the claim that the US government knowingly deports individuals to dangerous conditions. This matters because intentionally removing someone to danger is in violation of international laws and norms: there is a substantial body of legislation in international law protecting individuals from removal to dangerous and harmful situations. Article 33 of the Refugee Convention of 1951, Article 3 of the Convention against Torture, Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 22 (8) of the American Convention on Human Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child all either expressly or implicitly deal with preventing the exact kinds of dangers deported Salvadorans face upon removal. Individuals in circumstances where they fear violence and persecution are legally protected from deportation proceedings; according to international standards, individuals in such circumstances should not be deported.

While “Deported to Danger” focuses specifically on the dangers faced by Salvadoran deportees, it is important to know that the physical risks that accompany deportation proceedings are not exclusive to El Salvador.  In many cases, specifically for those seeking asylum, forcible return to an individual’s country of origin can be life threatening. Many people have nowhere to go but to return to abusive and harmful environments, and in some cases, the mere fact of returning from the USA can make people targets for violence and crime, increasing the level of threat they must navigate. As it becomes more and more difficult to receive refugee and asylum status, and as American immigration policy generally becomes more restrictive, the severe harms associated with deporting individuals to dangerous situations will worsen.

Here at The Immigration Project we regularly see cases in which legal aid is the only thing standing between an asylee and emotional, physical, or sexual violence. Returning individuals to their country of origin threatens lives; and as“Deported to Danger” illustrates, current US policy not only ignores these very real risks, it violates international norms and laws in the process.  

TPS is a federal program which allows individuals from certain countries for example those experiencing civil war or other temporary destabilizing circumstances to stay and live in the US without fear of removal. For more information about Temporary Protected Status, please click here.

To read the full “Deported to Danger” report, please click here.

Public Comment: USCIS Proposed Fee Increases

USCIS has proposed significant increases to the fees associated with various immigration services. These increases, if passed, may put citizenship outside of the realm of possibility for many of the country’s immigrants. The Immigration Project has submitted a public comment regarding these increases.

The Public Comment period is open until February 10th. Make your own public comment here.

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.