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Conference immigration attorney gives voice to voiceless

Conference immigration attorney gives voice to voiceless

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference immigration attorney gives voice to voiceless

Feb. 26, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0628}

NOTE: A headshot of Booth is available at See also related story, “Conference celebrates opening of second immigration clinic,” e-Review FUMNS #0627 at:

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

Andrew Booth. Photo #07-0526. Accompanies e-Review Florida UMNS #0628.

Andrew Booth doesn’t just believe in The United Methodist Church’s slogan “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” He lives it as part of his ministry helping immigrants find answers to their legal questions.

Booth is the Florida Conference’s new immigration attorney. He was hired by the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) as a church and community worker, or national missionary, to direct the Florida Conference’s Justice for Our Neighbors immigration clinics, one in Orlando and a second in Tampa. The conference’s refugee and immigration ministry is providing a portion of Booth’s salary, housing and utilities. GBGM provides the rest of his salary, plus benefits.

Justice for Our Neighbors is a national ministry of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Each of Florida’s clinics is a cooperative effort between the area’s local churches, the conference and UMCOR. The goal is to help people who can’t afford a lawyer or legal services take the next step in their legal process.

Booth, a life-long United Methodist, began work Sept. 1 directing the Refugee and Immigration Counseling Center in Orlando. The immigration clinic has been operating since May 2005 at First United Methodist Church of Pine Hills, also home to Berea United Methodist Church, a Haitian congregation that meets there. The second clinic opened Jan. 27 at Faith Community Haitian United Methodist Church in Tampa. Booth will direct it and a third clinic being planned for the Fort Pierce area. He has office space at First United Methodist Church in Orlando.

The clinics are open once a month for three to four hours each, providing free legal advice to help immigrants tackle a variety of legal issues related to their status and that of their families, from becoming citizens and legal residents to seeking asylum and reuniting with family members. Clients sign in, go through a lengthy series of questions with a volunteer, then meet with Booth.

Booth said immigration law has become even more difficult to decipher and practice since the enactment of the Patriot Act after Sept. 11, 2001. He said many people now view immigrants, or those seeking American citizenship, as “the boogeyman at the door.”

“Immigration is a hot-button issue,” said Booth, who graduated in May 2005 from Stetson University’s law school. “There are so many issues pressing upon our nation right now. There’s health care and poverty and immigration. Immigration is different and important because our nation was built upon welcoming immigrants.”

Booth says the problem with immigration is deeper and wider than anyone wants to acknowledge.

“This is a humanitarian disaster within our shores,” Booth said. “This is sort of a legal genocide of a large group of people. You have people who are being victimized by a system of laws they don’t really understand. Immigration law is so difficult that sometimes as an attorney I have a hard time comprehending what it means.”

Booth said the notion that immigrants are just more people to compete for jobs is false and plays upon the fears of Americans. He said many people seeking legal immigration status are doing so to maintain families that would otherwise be split between two countries if citizenship were denied.

“We have a mandate from Christ to love our neighbors,” he said. “And not only that, we must assist them, welcome them. These are people who are living on the fringes of our communities. They want to be part of society, and we should do that by welcoming them. We should do it out of love as an expression of our faith, regardless of religion, race or sexual preference.”

People who think their community is immune to the immigration crisis plaguing the rest of the state and country are not looking in the right places, according to Booth. He said people must look with the eyes of Christ and reach out to those who need help.

“This is an injustice,” he said. “You can’t say, ‘It’s not my problem.’ It involves everyone.”

The Tampa clinic offered its first session Jan. 27. It will be open once a month from 1 to 4 p.m. and can be reached at 813-899-2845. The Orlando clinic is open one evening a month from 6 to about 10 p.m. and can be reached at 407-293-0545. Booth may be reached at First United Methodist Church, Orlando, at 407-849-6080.

Additional articles about the development of the clinics and the immigration debate are available in e-Review’s archives and may be accessed through e-Review’s search feature at


This article relates to Church and Society.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.