Like most citizens of the United States, I descend from immigrants. One English branch in the 1600’s, another English branch in the 1700’s; and two in the wave if German immigrants in the late 1800’s. Perhaps that is why I am so drawn to the plight of 21st Century immigrants. I am grateful Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services goes on my behalf to offer support and resources to today’s immigrants and refugees.
In 2018 alone LIRS provided foster care to 1,643 children and facilitated reunifications with family members for an additional 34,358 children. The agency arranged visits for some 6, 882 detained migrants, provide them comfort and friendship. LIRS’ Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy trained 150 new members to advocate for immigrants and refugees and build support in their local communities.
New CEO At LIRS
As of February, LIRS is under the leadership of newly appointed CEO, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah. She comes to LIRS after serving as the Policy Director to former First Lady Michelle Obama. Now, more than ever, we need bold action to ensure America remains a shining city on the Hill and a bastion of hope for those seeking a better life. Krish embodies these timeless values. She is the second refugee and first non-Lutheran in LIRS’ 80 year history to lead the effort to protect rights and create opportunities for vulnerable refugees and migrants.
An immigrant herself, her family fled a civil war before coming to America. She knows firsthand the challenges and opportunities facing refugees and asylum-seekers. Krish’s parents fled with her when she was just nine-months old. They credit much of the successful transition to life in the U.S. to the Baltimore Schools where her parents found jobs as teachers. The school also became a safe place to make the transition from their war-torn country of origin to their new country of choice. Teachers and staff welcomed them as new neighbors and helped the family navigate their new country. Now Krish wants to pass on the help her family received by overseeing an agency that is committed to welcoming the stranger.
Exactly the Leader Needed Now
LIRS Board Chair, Bishop Michael Rinehart, says, “Krish is exactly the kind of once-in-a-generation leader LIRS needs right now. In the wake of unprecedented challenges to U.S. refugee resettlement and immigration policy, the LIRS mission – to protect, embrace, and empower those we serve – is more crucial now than ever. Through our extensive nation- wide search, we aimed to identify a leader who not only has a deep passion and commitment to this work, but also has the business acumen to drive the organization in a positive direction. The selection of Krish is an embodiment of the Lutheran commitment to be a church for the sake of the world.
My Family of Immigrants
I know the story of three of my four grandparents’ family’s reasons for leaving Europe to come to the States. My maternal grandfather’s ancestors fled England to escape persecution and likely imprisonment, if not execution. My ancestor, Elder William Brewster, was part of a movement challenging the authority of the Established Church of the late 1500’s and early 1600’s. They were refugees in Holland for a decade and then part of the Mayflower story.
My paternal grandmother came as a child with her family after her father was conscripted to fight in four consecutive wars. He left Germany with what fit in a small wooden trunk along with his wife and several children, one of them being my grandmother. My paternal grandfather came as a young teenager, with his three teenage brothers. I suppose it was in the hopes they would have a better chance of supporting themselves here than they could there. His parents and sisters stayed in Germany. I am not certain, but suspect he never saw his parents or sisters again.
Looking for Help and Hope
I hear a lot of talk today about why don’t immigrants and refugees just come here legally? Most try. We often move the piece of legal cheese with little notice. We change policies and tactics and instead of assisting desperate people, we too often make criminals out of people who are only doing what my ancestors did – run from horrendous circumstances, hoping that we will welcome them. I hope that too. Thanks to the efforts of LIRS, at least some of today’s immigrants and refugees are finding hope and help.
You might also be interested in this article about a creative way a Houston agency helps immigrants. Bicycling to a Better Life.