Gethsemane Welcomes LCS Immigration

by | Nov 12, 2018 | Refugees & Immigrants | 2 comments

Earlier this year, LCS Northwest was invited to house our Seattle Immigration Counseling services at Gethsemane Lutheran Church. We graciously accepted the offer.

This urban congregation actively embraces people of many gender identities and expressions, sexual orientations, abilities, ages, races, nationalities and ethnicities. Church members are interested in our refugee resettlement work and hosted a Circle of Welcome event in November 2017. They also organized an informational meeting for parishioners regarding our work with refugees in April 2018.

Johna Gray and Nandini Rao catch a quiet moment in the atrium at Gethsemane.

“We moved into the church at the end of June. It was the same week that Gethsemane offered sanctuary to an undocumented immigrant facing deportation,” recalled Nandini Rao, Immigration Staff Attorney and Program Manager for LCS Northwest.

Rao and Immigration Counselor Johna Gray are a small but mighty team. Between them, they are handling over 300 open cases. Their work ranges from helping immigrants apply for Green Cards (permanent resident status) and US Citizenship to assisting individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewals, obtaining personal travel documents and sponsoring family members to come to the US.

Cases vary in length depending on the legal issue. According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, it will cost an applicant $1,225 to apply for a Green Card with an expected wait time of 15 to 25 months for processing through the Seattle office. It’s $725 in fees and 16-18 months of waiting to become a citizen.

Sponsoring an immediate family member to come to the US is more complex. These cases involve interviews, exams and lots of paperwork. They take years to complete and cost the sponsor thousands of dollars.

“We have a family reunification case that was opened in 2015,” Gray explained as she held up a folder filled with several inches of paperwork. “Our client is a Somali refugee and she is trying to bring her family members here to safety. We worked with her to ensure that all requirements were met and all the  proper documentation was filed with the embassy. That was in 2017 and we’re still waiting for a decision.”

The women admit that the work is frustrating at times. Federal rules have been changing with little or no accompanying guidance in recent months. This can create anxiety and uncertainty.

“We used to submit client paperwork and Embassy staff would notify us when they wanted anything additional to determine a request,” Rao explained. “Now they are basing decisions on your initial submissions only. That forces us to gather and submit every possible piece of documentation we think they might want to consider in a family reunification case.”

In spite of the political uncertainties and burdensome red tape, Rao and Gray remain passionate about their work. They admire the strength and tenacity of their clients to overcome adversity and succeed in a new country.

Gray noted that LCS Northwest often develops long-term relationships with the immigrants and refugees that we serve. She and Rao routinely work with families resettled in this region by our Refugee Resettlement Program in Tacoma or youth enrolled in our Refugees Northwest Foster Care Program in King County. They help them navigate immigration issues from arrival until they become US citizens and beyond. They share their journeys.

This new partnership with Gethsemane gives them hope as well.

“The congregation has been very welcoming and members have asked what they can do to help,” Rao explained. “We’re looking forward to finding ways to engage them with us.”

Our Immigration Counseling and Advocacy Program (ICAP) provides low-cost immigration counseling services to refugees and immigrants in Portland, Beaverton, and Salem, Oregon along with Vancouver, Tacoma and Seattle, Washington. Learn more about what we do.


  1. Ann Heath

    Where are services in Salem?