AMIS seeks help for immigrants during COVID crisis

A new Heights-based organization, Americans Making Immigrants Safe (AMIS), is seeking to help some of the most vulnerable Ohioans affected by the coronavirus pandemic—our undocumented neighbors.

A 501(c)3 nonprofit, AMIS formed in 2019 as an outgrowth of the effort to assist Ansley Damus, a Haitian man who, upon requesting asylum in the U.S., was detained in a windowless Geauga County prison for more than two years without being allowed to communicate directly with his family. [Shari Nacson covered his story in a February 2019 Heights Observer article.]

A group of concerned Greater Clevelanders successfully fought for his release with legal help from the ACLU. Damus lived for about a year with his sponsors, Gary Benjamin and Melody Hart (now a member of CH City Council). He now has a full-time job, Facetimes daily with his wife and two children in Haiti, and recently moved into his own Cleveland Heights apartment.

AMIS also led a fundraising drive to enable three men from Burkina Faso to be released on bond from a prison where they were interned by ICE. They had sought asylum after their families were killed in random acts of violence in their home village. They now reside safely in an apartment in a Cleveland Heights church, where they help out, and are learning English.

AMIS has now turned its attention to immigrants affected by the health and economic crisis created by COVID-19. “Immigrants make up a significant part of our workforce, often in high-risk jobs that keep society running. But they rarely qualify for traditional support programs and benefits,” said Anne Hill, president of AMIS.

Undocumented immigrants are:

  • Less likely to have health insurance or paid sick leave, putting them at further risk.
  • Mostly ineligible for unemployment insurance.
  • Unable to receive cash payments included in the $2 trillion federal relief package—even if they pay taxes and have children that are U.S. citizens.

“We are all facing an extraordinarily challenging time right now,” noted Hill. “The generosity of Heights residents on behalf of those whose voice is faint, but whose needs are great, is deeply appreciated.”

AMIS hopes Heights residents will consider helping Ohio’s undocumented at this time of great need: $1,200 can cover a month of rent and groceries for one family; $600 can pay a month’s rent; $300 will cover the cost of extra groceries for children now at home during the day; even $100 will make a meaningful difference for families who are used to living very modestly. 

Visit to learn more and to make a donation, or send a check to AMIS Ohio, P.O. Box 18558, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118.

The AMIS Board of Directors comprises Cleveland Heights residents Anne Hill, Gary Benjamin, Jeff Smith, Stephen Sedam and Sue Dean Dyke. Pam Turos and Brian Boswell serve in an at-large capacity from nearby communities.

Stephen Sedam

Stephen Sedam, AMIS treasurer, is a 15-year resident of Cleveland Heights and active in immigrant rights through Forest Hill Church.

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Volume 13, Issue 5, Posted 1:30 PM, 04.20.2020