Posted on : Thursday August 17, 2017

Immigration Attorney Ann Holcomb cleared her voice as she introduced a World Relief group learning experience program, Welcoming the Stranger.

Photo credit: subscription

“Welcoming the Stranger empowers each of us to discover God’s heart for the immigrant.” Her words, spoken gently into the microphone, sent feedback echoing through the room at Hyattville’s Trinity Baptist Church. The technology itself seemed to audibly react to the tension emanating from the souls within the church sanctuary. Nonetheless, something soothing and reassuring radiated from Holcomb’s presence as she began to speak to the small crowd.

Despite her dislike of public speaking, Holcomb, a member of  Faith Baptist Church, Knoxville, mounted the stage before this group for one purpose: to educate the immigrant and refugee population of Prince George’s County, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Streaming through the church windows, the mid-morning sun cast the wooden cross behind the speaker into shadow.

Like the shadow, Holcomb spent many years in the company of those trapped within the darkness of deportation, the separation from family, and the fear of persecution in their home country. As she paced back and forth, her movements revealed the poignant words on the communion table behind her, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Those words seemed to be her mantra as she opened the Immigration Forum on Saturday, April 29, 2017 in prayer. With gentle conviction, she cried out to God to quiet the fear of the immigrant and to awaken compassion in the heart of all believers.

After securing her law degree in 1988, Holcomb first devoted herself primarily to raising her children, three of whom have special needs. She felt called to immigration work because she was often asked questions about immigration law. In 2009, she had the opportunity to serve as an attorney with World Relief Baltimore Immigration Legal Clinic, a not-for-profit legal services provider. Holcomb continues to serve part-time with World Relief and since 2016 has been in practice with Sentelle Law L.L.C., in Frederick, Md. Over the last seven years, Holcomb has ministered both full and part-time for World Relief, an organization that empowers the local church to serve those who are most vulnerable. On this day, she was speaking as a representative of Sentelle Law, L.L.C., a legal firm that practices Immigration and Family law.

Invited by Pastor Phil Hurst to host the Immigration Forum, Holcomb addressed the concerns of immigrants as it pertains to the church.
“I Corinthians 12:26 states that when one part of the body of Christ suffers, than all parts should enter into that suffering together,” said Holcomb, sharing this conviction as one of her reasons for entering immigration law. She then branched into a legal discussion, addressing the pressing questions of those in attendance.

“What should I do when an immigration officer comes to my door?” One attendee cautiously asked in broken English.

“How long must I wait to see if I can stay with my child in the U.S.?” another person ventured with a trembling voice.

Holcomb engaged each person with compassion, validating their feelings while at the same time upholding the sanctity of the law.

She clearly iterated their rights, as well as communicated specific information that they were not required to share. As with any legal resident, an immigrant is not required to submit to a property search or unwillingly share information with an immigrant official without an officially signed warrant. When approached, any person must only state their legal name and may refuse to answer any questions without an attorney present. Some attendees appeared both surprised and relieved that such protections also applied to them.

Further, she reinforced that deceitful methods, such as fraudulent marriages or the acquisition of black market forged documents, should be avoided at all costs in order to uphold the integrity of the law. Immigration officers are trained experts at discerning duplicitous behavior. Ultimately, participation in such illegal schemes damages personal credibility and practically ensures eventual, if not immediate, deportation, she said.

One particular warning was sobering. “Beware of notarios! These are people who hold themselves out as immigration helpers. Frequently, they are attempting a money scam. Even if they are sincere, they often lack the qualifications to legitimately help. The process is incredibly complicated. Because of the intricate details of the law, each immigration case is different.”

Holcomb’s words echoed a 2016 consumer alert issued by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, warning immigrants and refugees against trusting notarios. These so-called immigration consultants prey on desperate immigrants and refugees, conning them out of money. These scams, far from helping, can inadvertently lead to the separation of families and the destruction of dreams through deportation.

Holcomb recommends that individuals seeking immigration services should see a qualified immigration attorney or an accredited Department of Justice represenative.  Attendees responded to her words by sharing how unrealistic it was for them to pay the high fees associated with legal immigration services.

“Money should never be an obstacle for receiving a consultation,” Holcomb asserted. “In fact, non-profits such as the Immigration Alliance or Catholic Charities, offer financial assistance to those who wish to see immigration attorneys.”

Hurst, Trinity Baptist Church’s pastor, organized the forum because he was troubled to see his church members in immigration situations taken advantage of by notarios.

He empathized with the fear members of his congregation were feeling, wondering if they would be separated from loved ones or forced to return to an unsafe environment. He wanted to provide a safe and trustworthy source of legal aid for other believers who were in this situation.

When asked for suggestions on what other churches could do to support fellow believers facing immigration and deportation issues, he shared these words:

“From a church-level, immigration is not a political issue. It is more of a question of what do I do when Jesus brings an immigrant to my door? I have to make it personal. These are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I need to advocate for them.”

In addition to providing trustworthy and qualified legal advocates, Hurst also suggested that Christians advocate for their brothers and sisters in Christ by providing transportation to immigration attorney appointments, offering character references during immigration proceedings, or simply listening without judgment.

“Sometimes a person finds themselves in a situation of their own making,” Hurst mused. “Out of fear or lack of literacy they overstayed a visa and now must face the consequences of that decision. We can’t focus on changing minds. We must simply do the work of building the kingdom of God with those who are right in front of us.”

Sabrena Klausman is a writer from Sykesville, Md.