A Marblehead woman has been honored for her work helping immigrants navigate the citizenship process, by Congressman Seth Moulton.
Kerry-Frances Bourne received the 2023 Peter J. Gomes Service Award from Moulton at a ceremony this week. The award was established in 2016 by Moulton to honor Gomes’ legacy. He served as minister of Harvard University’s Memorial Church for over three decades and was a mentor to Moulton.
“Kerry-Frances Bourne has selflessly taken on countless immigrant clients for free, helping them navigate the complexities of the citizenship process,” said Moulton. “At a time when the failures of our existing immigration laws are front and center in communities and our politics, her work is incredibly important.”
He added, “We need more people like Kerry-Frances, whose compassion and determination truly makes a positive difference in the lives of others.”
In a Marblehead Current interview, Bourne called the award “shocking,” saying she felt inspired listening to the stories of the other honorees and their work. She said assisting immigrants has been among the most meaningful experiences of her life.
Over the past two years, Bourne estimates she has spent 800-900 hours on immigration legal work for Open Doors Immigration Services and the PAIR Project. Her efforts have included teaching citizenship classes, leading fundraising efforts and serving as case manager during a leadership transition.
“The immigration system is extremely overwhelming. And these are some of our most vulnerable people,” Bourne said.
She said she has helped approximately 35 immigrants with legal issues, such as asylum applications, green card petitions and naturalization cases.
“It’s about their security. And you know, their very lives depend on it sometimes,” she said, adding that there are five grounds for asylum: race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
Moulton praised Bourne’s “compassion and determination” in assisting vulnerable immigrants through the complex legal court system.
She called asylum cases especially complicated, often requiring 100 to 150 hours of legal work for a single client fleeing danger in their home countries.
“I think attorneys who have been doing it longer, probably do it faster,” she said.
She said the demanding, unpaid effort is deeply meaningful.
“There’s no better feeling than when a green card arrives in the mail,” she said. “Oftentimes the clients will say, ‘I get to see my family again.’”