Meet Family Reunification Specialist: Josselyne Bustillo
I had the opportunity to interview Josselyne Bustillo, our former Family Reunification Specialist here at World Relief Memphis. She shares a little about what her work was like and where it fit into the goals and mission of World Relief as a whole. The interview has been edited for style and clarity.
Hi, my name is Josselyne, and I've lived here in Memphis for four years. I grew up in Jackson, Tennessee, and I'm originally from Honduras. I was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I went to Union University in Jackson, Tennessee; I lived at home since I'm from Jackson. After I graduated from Union, I went to the University of Memphis School of Law and graduated earlier this year.
What was your role at World Relief Memphis?
At World Relief Memphis, I worked on AORs, which are Affidavits of Relationship. These are available to both refugees and asylees currently in the United States, depending on what country they're originally from. If we had someone at the World Relief office that was from a qualifying country, they would become what we called a US tie to sponsor another refugee’s entrance into the United States. These AORs are mostly just used for immediate family members who are refugees and registered with the UN in another country abroad. We would fill out an AOR, an affidavit of relationship, so that when the family member’s refugee process was done they would be sure to come here to Memphis. There are other rules involved that occasionally provide for sponsorship of people who are not immediate family members, and it's a way to bring families together and try to reunite a family unit, so in this case, in Memphis.
Why are the affidavits important to World Relief?
The importance of the affidavits is twofold. First of all, it is an important way to get more people together as a family unit. My title at World Relief Memphis was Family Reunification Specialist, based on how these AORs work to bring families together again in Memphis. That's important because if a refugee doesn't have a US tie when they enter the country, for lack of a better description, the US Office of Refugee Resettlement will choose somewhere for you to go depending on what cities are accepting refugees or other internal factors. If someone has a US tie, they'll ask, “Do you want to go where this person is?” And so in that case, the refugee would say, “Yes, that's my dad, that's my wife, that's my brother. I want to go where they are.” It's important in that aspect for the people that we were serving to be together with their family members. The AORs are also a good thing for World Relief and the Memphis office in general because that way we're able to keep family units together. We were also able to create more of a pipeline, you could say, of refugees and asylees coming into Memphis as well, which is important to World Relief and to the Memphis community because it makes it more diverse.
How did your legal background help you with these?
I don't know if I would say you need a legal background, but I think it helped me understand the different agencies at work when it comes to the refugee aspects, such as the refugee agencies, and once someone entered the country, the immigration agencies too. It also helped me understand the need for an AOR, and why we weren’t just waiting for the person to become a citizen and then go through the process of petitioning because that could take a little longer. A refugee would have to wait five years to become a citizen before they could petition for an immediate family member like a wife, parent or child. If we were able to fill out an AOR and go through the refugee process, then that person could come here earlier. All of these people are refugees for one reason or another. They've left their home state and gone to another, so it was important for me to help them come to a safer place as soon as possible. I think that understanding the legal system and the reality that it might take a while if you just wait instead of taking the steps available, like the AORs, allowed me to help people with the process of bringing their loved ones to the US.
How did your background, being from Honduras, affect how you viewed this work, or really any of your work at World Relief?
My background definitely affected and still does my interest in refugees and immigration and asylum. Most of the people who I would do AORs for were refugees from African nations, but there were a lot of asylum seekers from Central America, specifically from Honduras, where I’m from. My background helped me understand that someone might see a refugee or an asylee and have trouble imagining the reality of their life since it has been so difficult, and I felt the same way. But being from Honduras, it helped me put into perspective how it can easily happen to anyone. It's really not a reflection of who you are as a person, and more a reflection of where you were born and situations that have been thrust upon you. And then, obviously, being an immigrant, I think that made me just have a heart for immigration and then end up in a place like World Relief because of that.
How did you hear about World Relief?
Well as I mentioned, I went to Union University. I had heard about World Relief previously before I even came to Memphis through the Christian community at Union, specifically because I was and still am interested in immigration-type work, and it’s a nonprofit that serves as a resettlement center for refugees. Then once I moved here, I learned a little more about them.
What was the process of getting involved with World Relief Memphis? What did that look like?
Actually it was interesting! I had heard of PJ before, who is the office director, because I am friends with his brother-in-law. I emailed PJ, and I told him that I was looking to do work within the immigration field, and that I am passionate about World Relief's mission, not just towards immigrants but towards the vulnerable people in our community especially through a Christian worldview. A few weeks later, he responded and said we're actually opening up a position for AORs, and I think that you would be a good fit for it. Through that, I applied for the position and went through the interview process to be hired for the position.
Who have you met in your work so far?
Well, I've honestly probably only met World Relief staff. I think it's very nice to be surrounded by a group of like-minded individuals. In a workplace, it is common to be surrounded by people with similar interests, but at World Relief it goes beyond that. Because we might all have been interested in immigration and refugee law and things like that, but, on top of that, we were not just interested in those things. We all had similar worldviews to those around us and could speak freely of those, and that was really nice.
As far as clients go, I submitted four AORs, and they were for African and Syrian refugees.
What were you hoping to learn at WRM? What do your next steps look like?
Well, I had done some asylum work before but I had never done refugee work. I was definitely looking forward to learning more about that, especially how the process itself works of becoming a refugee. Because I knew that World Relief did a lot for the refugees, but I also knew that when they get to Memphis there has already been a long process that they've gone through to get here. For us at World Relief, their arrival starts the process, but I know that for the individual, it has been way longer than just that. I guess you could say that’s where their American story starts, but there has been so much prior to that. I enjoyed learning more about the refugee process and how someone comes about to end up in Memphis, Tennessee one day.
Sarah Barnett was the former Mobilization Intern for World Relief Memphis and is a senior at Furman University in South Carolina. She majors in Political Science and Spanish and is passionate about influencing where people and policies collide.