Catholic Social Services expanding in Robertsdale
Submitted by Sally McKinney
ROBERTSDALE, Alabama -- Norman Franz, a member of Our Lady of the Gulf Church in Gulf Shores, is spending quality time in Robertsdale, renovating the building that will soon house volunteer and immigration services.
Catholic Social Services is adding this building to its other buildings on Ala. 59 in Robertsdale.
Robert Yates volunteers each week in the Food Pantry at Catholic Social Services in Robertsdale.
Catholic Charities USA -- including local affiliate Catholic Social Services in Robertsdale -- will celebrate its centennial this fall. The national organization is composed of about 1,700 local affiliates.
In Robertsdale, the Baldwin County program operates out of three buildings, soon to be four, program leaders said. The space donated to help launch the Family Promise offices is being renovated to accommodate volunteer and immigration programs as well as legal services, if a grant comes through.
Under the guidance of volunteer Norman Franz, the 1980s, eight-room facility is being rearranged. Walls are being removed; others are being added. New carpeting and other accoutrements will also be added. A place to serve men, women, children and families will stand amid the Thrift Shop, the organization’s offices, the Christmas Building and the food pantry.
The proposal for the grant requests funds to establish a collaborative relationship between Legal Services of Alabama and Catholic Social Services. Legal Services provides legal assistance to Alabama’s low-income citizens and families, ranging from counsel and advice and self-help forms to advocacy before administrative agencies and representation in court. These services will target those affected by the oil crisis.
When school opened, 288 students were provided with school supplies, uniforms and some fees. Of those, 41 attend high school, 68 are in middle school and 176 attend elementary schools in Baldwin County. Most are Robertsdale students, but students from Bay Minette to Foley received aid. Three college students were also helped, a spokesman said.
The Immigration Program deals with cases weekly, focusing on family based immigration. The staff attends annual training sessions through Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. They help reunite the poor with families by keeping fees nominal and by applying for fee waivers for extreme hardship situations. This training is required to maintain accreditation with the Board of Immigration Appeals. Catholic Social Services goals are to increase these services, along with providing more help to victims of human trafficking and minor youth in a Safe Passages Program sponsored by the U.S. Catholic Bishops.
The oil crisis has increased mental health issues in the county and Catholic Social Services has a part-time licensed counselor to help. Forty-two clients received 199 hours of therapy. Donations, grants, fees and funding from Catholic Charities and the United Way make this available for the poor and uninsured.
Special utility assistance programs are available to needy families. Last quarter, the Riviera Fund spent almost $2,000 helping 16 families. Families with an elderly or disabled member are eligible for help from Project SHARE.
A new program established by the city of Robertsdale, called Neighbors to Neighbors, helps families meet the high cost of heating and cooling. Beginning in April, the program spent more than $5,000 to help 33 families.
The Thrift Shop provides clothing and household items to all county residents. Although 42 families "shopped for free" with vouchers provided by caseworkers, other shoppers spend almost $20,000 during the quarter. These funds are used for emergency aid. Volunteers provide many hours of sorting, marking, storing, shelving and selling items for the whole family.
Those without medical prescription insurance may be able to get medications through the Ozanam Charitable Pharmacy. Local physicians donate pharmaceuticals to this life-saving program. Last quarter, 28 people received 73 free prescriptions valued at almost $2,900.
The food pantry is filled with nonperishable items at all times and during the height of the harvest, a variety of vegetables such as corn, okra and greens are available. Donated refrigerators and a walk-in cooler store perishables. The shelves are stacked with items donations from individuals, stores and county churches. Many volunteer hours are spent in this area of the main building.
For help, go to Robertsdale on Ala. 59, just south of St. Patrick Catholic School, to find the center. For more information, call 251-947-2293.
Study: Illegal immigration from Mexico declines overall, but not in Texas
By DIANNE SOLIS / The Dallas Morning News
The unlawful flow of Mexican immigrants into the U.S. continues to slow, and the nation's illegal immigrant population is down by nearly 1 million people, the Pew Hispanic Center said in a report released today.
But Texas didn't show a decline in the most recent period of study, 2007 to 2009.Instead it showed an increase of 200,000, which the reports' authors said was not statistically significant.
The report by the Pew Hispanic Center avoids naming causes for the contraction to 11.1 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. But it notes that the recession and tougher immigration enforcement paralleled a trend that "represents the first significant reversal in the growth of this population over the past two decades."
The findings come at a time when the national debate over illegal immigration grows more vigorous and polarized. Rancor comes from Arizona's tough new immigration law, which is being challenged in the federal courts. And while some press for a partial legalization program for those here illegally, others have called for an end to birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants.
Much of the drop the Pew reports found in the unauthorized immigrant population comes from the nation's Southeast coast and the states of Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Utah .
"In the case of Mexico, the inflow has dropped but the outflow hasn't changed so those two numbers are in rough balance," said Jeffrey Passel, the report's co-author and a prominent demographer.
Why Texas' population of illegal immigrants hasn't declined is up for debate.
Mexican officials and others have speculated that Texas became a destination state for some immigrants from more economically battered U.S. states. Texas' jobless rate — now at 8.2 percent — has been 1 to 2 percentage points below the national average for much of the recession.
The Pew study follows another report this week that says in Texas one out of three young students under the age of 8 has an immigrant parent. The Washington-based Urban Institute says nationwide one out of four students under the age of 8, roughly third-graders, has an immigrant parent.
And Texas continues to have one of the nation's highest percentages of illegal immigrants in the labor force, at nearly 9 percent. Illegal immigrants account for 6.5 percent of the state's 24 million residents, or an estimated 1.6 million people in 2009. It's the third highest rate in the nation in a cluster led by California (with a 6.9 percent share).
In Dallas, Vanna Slaughter, the longtime head of immigration services for Catholic Charities , said the report reflected what she saw in the population.
"The contraction doesn't surprise me," Slaughter said. "That it doesn't show up in Texas does."
Slaughter said the State Department is seeing a similar trend in the legal flow of immigrants who petition to bring in relatives. Mexico leads in legal immigration, as well.
According to the Pew center's estimates, an average of 150,000 unauthorized immigrants from Mexico arrived annually between March 2007 and March 2009 — 70 percent below the annual average of 500,000 during the first half of the decade.
The Pew center said that the unauthorized immigrant population peaked at 12 million in March 2007, several months before the recession officially hit the U.S. And the nonpartisan research center noted that 72 percent of the overall foreign-born population was in the U.S. legally in 2009.
Apprehensions of illegal immigrants have decreased at the U.S-Mexican border with increased law enforcement there. But removals from the interior of the U.S. have steadily climbed.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have said they'd like to expel a record 400,000 people for the fiscal year, ending this September.
Kent Catholic Charities to offer Immigration help
DOVER, Del. (AP) ― Catholic Charities will soon offer immigration help at its Kent County office.
Maria Mesias, an immigration specialist, will see people who need assistance with their legal status on Wednesdays.
Catholic Charities spokeswoman Paula Savini says people will be able to get help whether they are seeking legal permanent residency or temporary protected status. She says people will also be able to get help renewing their immigration documents.
Savini says the Kent County office recently received recognition and accreditation from the Board of Immigration Appeals. She says the expanded services will be offered at the office on Walker Road in Dover beginning on Sept. 22.
New strategy in immigration cases
KTRK - Houston, TX
Some illegal immigrants on the verge of being deported are getting some surprising news -- their cases have been dismissed. The Department of Homeland Security is starting to reconsider thousands of immigrant cases as part of a new security strategy.
The change in policy brings with it a sense of relief among those in this country illegally who don't want to be separated from their family, but it also raises concern over whether the dismissals will lead to a new attitude among illegal immigrants no longer afraid of deportation.
The new policy is seen by some as a positive step.
Immigration attorney Gordon Quan said, "We had two cases already dismissed last week. We had another one dismissed yesterday. It's a large number of cases we have."
Quan says the policy is a chance to thin out overwhelmed immigration courts dealing with a backlog that according to court experts is over 20,000 cases waiting.
"If you go in for a hearing before an immigration judge, it will probably be a year and three months before your case will be called for a hearing," Quan explained.
Don't expect a blanket dismissal of cases. According to the Department of Homeland Security, illegal immigrants must meet certain criteria including having no criminal history as well as having ties to legal residents such as family members.
Yet the benefit seen by some is considered a detriment by others. In particular, there is concern among border patrol groups who believe the policy will encourage illegal crossings.
Larry Youngblood with the Texas Border Volunteers routinely travels to the border to observe illegal crossings.
"It adds incentives," Youngblood said. "We've seen it over and over. We decide not to enforce certain laws. It will lead to the downfall of our nation by picking and choosing which laws to enforce."
It's a touchy situation over at Catholic Charities, where an estimated 8,000 immigrants are helped. Clients inside shied away from our camera and didn't want to be interviewed. One immigration lawyer hopes the new policy will lead to other changes.
"What we're really needing is some sort of comprehensive change in the laws that would make it possible for people to get family visas more quickly," said immigration attorney Sister Veronica Shueler.
One legal immigrant at Catholic Charities told me off camera she's happy with the policy because it will keep her family intact. However, those whose cases are dismissed will not automatically receive work permits or Social Security numbers.
Catholic Charities Atlanta Program Director Honored by CLINIC
Sue Colussy receives prestigious Friend of CLINIC award
ATLANTA, GA (July 28, 2010) – Catholic Charities Atlanta is pleased to
announce that our Immigration Legal Services’ program director, Sue Colussy,
was rewarded with a lifetime achievement award at the recent Catholic Legal
Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) gathering in New Orleans, LA.
The Friend of CLINIC award goes to a program director in CLINIC’s network
who has been outstanding in program development and service in her
community, has served as a model for other program directors, and has aided
CLINIC by serving as a mentor and advisor. This award is not given on an
annual basis, but rather only when it is merited. A number of CLINIC’s leaders
and staff including Maria Odom, Jack Holmgren, and Dinah Suncin suggested
that Sue Colussy be recognized for her outstanding work.
Maria Odom, the executive director for CLINIC, announced the “Friend of
CLINIC” for Sue Colussy earlier this spring. “We are very proud to award Sue
Colussy our Friend of CLINIC award. Among our affiliates, Sue has been a
pioneer, a mentor, a friend, an advocate, and a conscientious Program Director.
Because of the growth and success of her program, thousands of vulnerable and
low income immigrants have access to excellent legal representation in the
Atlanta area each year. We applaud Sue for her commitment and for her selfless
service to Catholic Charities Atlanta and to our network!”
Immigration Services Attorney Receives Prestigious Liberty Bell Award
ATLANTA, GA, (July 23, 2010) - During the recent annual DeKalb County Bar
Association’s “Law Day” breakfast, Rebeca Salmon, an attorney with the
Immigrant Children’s Advocacy Project of Catholic Charities Atlanta received
the 2010 Liberty Bell Award for outstanding service to the community, in
particular serving abandoned and abused foreign children. This award gives
public recognition to men and women, including non-lawyers for outstanding
service in the following areas:
1. promoting a better understanding and appreciation of our Constitution
and the Rule of Law;
2. encouraging greater respect for law and the courts;
3. stimulating a deeper sense of individual responsibility so that citizens
recognize their civic responsibilities as well as their rights; and
4. contributing to the effective functioning of our institutions of government.
Chief Judge Nelly Withers of the DeKalb County courts recommended Rebeca
Salmon as someone who has impressed her with an outstanding dedication to
her work of advocating for children who are abandoned and abused. The chief
judge described Rebeca as a person who shines in her work and goes out of her
way to achieve a positive result while promoting the rule of law.
The Honorable Judge Ralph Merck describes Rebeca as deserving of this
prestigious award with “Rebeca epitomizes someone who not only respects the law, but
uses the law to achieve otherwise unattainable results. She avails herself to every single
tool of the law, and will not rest when it comes to the defense of these unfortunate
children. Rebeca’s outstanding academic knowledge of the law allows her to apply it in
the greatest practical sense. We are thrilled to present this prestigious award to Rebeca.”
Ms. Salmon joined Catholic Charities Atlanta in 2006. Her specialty in the Law
focuses on the representation of unaccompanied, abandoned and abused minors
in both State Juvenile Proceedings and Federal Immigration Court. Catholic
Charities is very proud to count Rebeca as a vital member of its organization.
Catholic Charities hopes to make things easier for immigrants in the region
By Izaskun E. Larraneta
New London - Immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens or need help filling out complex paperwork no longer have to travel to Hartford or Bridgeport.
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Norwich opened an Immigration Counseling Program office last month at 28 Huntington St. The primary focus will be on family-based immigration - immigrants who want to petition for relatives to join them, for instance - and naturalization services.
"The whole immigration issue is quite controversial," said Marek Kukulka, executive director of Catholic Charities. "Some people will just hear that we're helping immigrants, but we're not condoning illegal immigration. We're here to help those who are eligible for paperwork according to the laws of this country."
Filling out forms to replace a green card or apply for citizenship can be confusing, especially if one is not familiar with the English language.
A wave of immigrants has come to the region to work at the casinos, and many are here on visas and need help renewing them, said Rosalinda Bazinet, an employee with the immigration program.
Bazinet said they've helped eight clients - workers from the casinos, restaurants and factories, as well as the elderly.
A Haitian client was seeking temporary protective status because of the recent earthquake, while an immigrant from the Dominican Republic wanted to petition for a relative.
"We noticed in the area that there aren't too many resources to get infor mation on immigration issues," Kukulka said. "We're targeting the low-income population, those who cannot afford an attorney."
Kukulka said two employees, Alvania Hilario and Bazinet, were trained through the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. They're also in the process of getting accreditation from the Board of Immigration Appeals, the highest U.S. administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws. The accreditation allows them to represent clients in legal immigration matters.
An attorney has also agreed to help pro bono when there are more complex issues, he said.
"We would not help people do something that's illegal," said Kukulka. "All we could do is give them information, what options they have and what their status is in this county."
Kukulka said some immigrants have been the victim of scams in which they pay someone to fill out paperwork or provide a service but don't get anything in return. In most of these cases, Kukulka said, the victim is so afraid that the crime goes unreported.
Bazinet said they've been getting inquiries from immigrants when they learn what they have to offer. "They're relieved that they don't have to go to Hartford to get help," she said.
Hilario said many immigrants are confused and unaware of their rights.
"We're here, able and willing to help," Hilario said. "Some don't know the law ... that they can be helped."
Refugees build success from nothing
June 20, 2010
Not all of the immigrants arriving in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky are from Mexico or Central America.
Instead, think Bhutan. Burma. Eritrea. Somalia.
They're brought here because the federal government recognized them as refugees, and the Catholic Church agreed to resettle them here.
The lack of money and volunteers limits how many refugees - 131 in 2009 and another 112 so far this year - are brought to Cincinnati through the Refugee Resettlement Program of Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio.
Small communities of refugees also are concentrated in the Florence area and are sponsored by the Archdiocese of Louisville, which oversees refugee resettlement in Kentucky.
"This is not an unwelcoming community, but we need to be gingerly about it," said Rod Huber, director of Family Services and the refugee program for Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio. "There are people who oppose - and do strongly - immigration of any kind. It's the nature of the city."
Regionally, Cleveland seesabout twice as many refugees as Cincinnati and Louisville three times the number, Huber said.
Cincinnati celebrated World Refugee Day over the weekend, joining the global show of solidarity created by the United Nations in 2000. It recognizes the survival, success and overall resiliency of people forced from their homelands.One of the larger groups of recent refugees coming to Cincinnati is Bhutanese. About 250 people from the land-locked Asian national arrived in the past two years.
Five of the seven members of Khadka Neopane's family came to Cincinnati on July 29, 2008, and have since found jobs, schools and an apartment in Colerain Township.
They were among the estimated 106,000 ethnic Nepalis forced from their native Bhutan in 1991.
The Neopane family lived in one of the seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal. Home then was a 150-square foot house with bamboo walls, plastic roof, dirt floor and no electricity, heat or plumbing. Thousands died in cholera outbreaks before the United Nations improved sanitation conditions.
The U.S. government announced in 2007 that it would consider taking 60,000 Bhutanese refugees.
"We heard it was powerful and big, better opportunity, a wide area," said Ghana Neopaney, 25, a son whose last name was incorrectly spelled with a "Y" on his immigration papers; immigration officials advised him not to try to have it corrected.
He studies bio-medical engineering at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and works as a bagger at the Mt. Airy Kroger.
One of the family's daughters, Som Sutar, 21, and her husband, Purna Sutar, will arrive here June 24.
The family is happy in Greater Cincinnati. Khadka Neopane works in the laundry at Aramark. Son Hem Neopane, 20, attends Cincinnati State as a nursing student and works at a McDonald's.
They are part of a tight-knit Bhutanese community - living downstairs from another refugee family - that helps each other with transportation, driver's licenses and English"Life here is very secure," Ghana Neopaney said. Family members, including mother Kamala, who does not speak English, all have their Green Cards and are working to become U.S. citizens three years from now.
"We had no land; what was under our feet was not ours. We had no country," he said. "We don't want to stay that way. I want to say I am an American."
Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio also brings in refugees from Burundi, Cuba, Eritrea, Iraq, Mauritania and many other countries.
The local Catholic Charities office is part of a network involving the U.S. Department of State and Department of Homeland Security. Once here, refugees receive basic food, clothing and shelter needs through Catholic Charities. Case managers help with health screenings, English classes and job contacts.
"They come with just the clothes on their backs and a big old pack of (immigration) papers," Huber said.
The long-term goal for refugees is help them become self-sufficient.
About three-dozen employers - hotels, restaurants and food service and pharmacies, grocery stores and other retailers - work closely with Catholic Charities to provide jobs. Garfield Suites and the Hyatt Regency have been especially helpful in recent years, said Huber, resettlement director since 1984.
The Bhutanese, who live in groups in Finneytown and Hartwell, in addition to Colerain, are doing their part. They're working.
Ghana Neopaney wants his fellow Bhutanese to do more as they become Americans.
"I would like the Bhutanese youth not to sit and watch and just be satisfied in (entry-level) jobs," he said. "We need to make sure we go to school and take advantage of all of our opportunities in the United States. Let's make our future better."
Catholic Charity Helps Immigrants Become Citizens
June 6, 2010
WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) ― Catholic Charities says it is expanding efforts to help immigrants become citizens.
The organization held a naturalization workshop Saturday in Wilmington attended by 27 families.
Catholic Charities says the workshop was made possible through a $10,000 grant from the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. which will also be used to expanding outreach in Delaware and on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
The Catholic Legal Immigration Network was started in 1988 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who have been calling on Congress reform the immigration system.
Catholic Charities spokeswoman Paula Savini says the agency's mission is to help naturalize immigrants so they can hold jobs with confidence and live in security.
Catholic Charities awarded prize
June 2, 2010
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) has presented its second Lily Gutierrez Memorial Award to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Hartford.
The award, presented at CLINIC’s annual convention May 19-21, confers a monetary grant to an affiliate of the network that has demonstrated outstanding services to immigrants within its first two years of existence.
"CLINIC’s goal is to expand access to affordable legal services for immigrants. Catholic Charities of Hartford has demonstrated a commitment to and understanding of this mission," said Jeff Chenoweth, director of CLINIC’s Center for Citizenship and Immigrant Communities, which works with nonprofit immigration programs to enhance and increase their service capacity.
Established in 2008, the immigration program of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Hartford was selected for its outstanding program management as well as the services it offers to low income and vulnerable immigrants. In addition, the program successfully earned accreditation from the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) for two staff members to allow them to lawfully provide legal assistance to immigrants.
Additionally, the program has also achieved certification as a BIA recognized agency.
"This program has worked strategically since it was established to steadily increase the services that are available to immigrants in its community. It provides ESL classes, assistance with citizenship applications and family petitions. Additionally, it has opened a second office to better serve the nearby New Haven community," said Mr. Chenoweth.
The Lily Gutierrez Memorial Award was established to recog-nize the contributions of longtime CLINIC board member and former regional director Lily Gutierrez.
In addition to the Lily Gutierrez Memorial Award, CLINIC also presented its annual BIA Pro Bono Project Award to the Clinical Legal Studies Program at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University.
Catholic group sponsoring naturalization workshop
Faith Files - May 22, 2010
Immigrants who are in Delaware legally and want to take the next step towards citizenship are invited to a first-time event sponsored by the Catholic Charities Immigration Program.
The naturalization workshop will be on June 5 at Catholic Charities main office, 2601 W. Fourth St. in Wilmington. Organizers are expecting about 30 people; so far 11 have registered.
Volunteer attorneys will assist in the program, which will run from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Applicants will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis.
The cost is $40. Attendees must be 18 or older and a permanent resident for five years (three if based on marriage to a U.S. citizen). They must have no criminal convictions and have a good understanding of English.
Attendees must bring: a green card or permanent resident card; two passport-style recent photos; all passports (current and expired); and dates and addresses for all places of employment and residence in the last five years, along with the same information for spouses and children.
People applying for citizenship will need a check or money order for $675 payable to the Department of Homeland Security.
Call Maria Mesias 654-6460, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catholic group offers immigration services
By Tim Ruzak
May 11, 2010
Martha Diaz splits her time every week in Austin, Albert Lea and Owatonna offering legal services to immigrants.
Her time appears to be highly sought after, especially since she became accredited in early March to do immigration legal work.
Diaz, who speaks Spanish and English and formerly worked as a certified court interpreter for Minnesota's Third Judicial Circuit, now serves as an immigration services caseworker for Catholic Charities. She recently was accredited to do the work by the U.S. Department of Justice's Board of Immigration Appeals.
Immigration law allows Diaz and other non-attorneys to practice immigration law, but they first need to be accredited and work for certain, recognized agencies. The Board of Immigration Appeals also recently granted agency status to Catholic Charities, which serves 20 counties across southern Minnesota.
Immigrations service furthers Catholic Charities' mission to reach out to the "marginalized, the alienated and the stranger throughout our diocese," said Robert Tereba, executive director of Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Winona started the program earlier this year to provide legal services to immigrants at its offices in Austin, Albert Lea and Owatonna. It's open to anyone for a nominal fee.
Diaz underwent extensive training in immigration law, and Catholic Charities had to demonstrate its organizational capacity to effectively support the new program.
In the program, Diaz offers assistance with family visa services, adjustment of status and citizenship services, among other areas. She is seeing a big push with people trying to become U.S. citizens, mainly refugees from Sudan and Cuba.
Out of all her services, the three biggest taskes involve renewing alien registration cards, citizenship and employment authorization, Diaz said.
Matters that are beyond the program's service area are referred to immigration attorneys outside of Catholic Charities. The new program doesn't represent people in immigration court for criminal matters. Diaz mainly helps people fill out documents and takes them through the steps of processes.
She also gathers information for people, including those facing deportation, and gives advice on what they can do.
In Austin, Diaz does her work at the Welcome Center, a nonprofit that serves newcomers to the community.
Last year, Diaz served 130 people in Austin, mainly with passport issues and other questions. She estimates that her client load might double with the expansion of her services.
The program's goal is to "provide competent, authorized and affordable legal services to immigrants," said Tereba. "Clarifying the legal status of immigrants will promote their well-being and security, and the well-being and security of their families."
Catholic Social Services lends its assistance to legal immigrants
By Amy McCraw
Imagine living and working in the United States while your children and spouse live in another country. You want them with you, but you can't afford an attorney to help navigate the complex process required to legally bring your family to this country.
But Catholic Social Services, an agency sponsored by Catholic Charities USA, gives many immigrants in the area a chance to reunite with their loved ones.
"It is part of my faith to help people," says Lea Terrey, an immigration specialist with Catholic Social Services. "It is gratifying to see families reunited."
Catholic Social Services, a nonprofit and part of the Charlotte diocese, serves 16 counties in Western North Carolina through its main office in Asheville. Staff members also spend time each month in Burnsville, Murphy and Hendersonville. Other branches of Catholic Social Services serve the remainder of the state.
How it started
CSS began in 1948 as a ministry of the diocese of Raleigh. It became part of the Charlotte diocese in 1973.
Today, Terrey assists clients with immigration concerns through a CSS program called Asheville Legal Migration Assistance.
She spends two days each month at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Hendersonville meeting with clients, usually from Mexico, who want to have their family members join them.
She meets with people regardless of religious affiliation.
Not everyone gets help
For many foreign-born Hendersonville residents, such financial and bureaucratic challenges associated with legal immigration leave them separated from their families.
Those who seek her services must meet minimum financial requirements. Only those who are considered low-income are eligible for assistance. Clients typically must earn less than $30,000 a year to qualify for assistance.
Terrey must also turn away people who have issues outside the scope of her specialty. Those who need help with deportation, work visas, student visas or criminal cases are referred to other agencies or attorneys.
Catholic Social Services also can't help some clients because their circumstances don't meet immigration law requirements.
"They come to us and think because we are the Catholic Church, we can work miracles," she says.
Telling people she can't do that, and giving them an honest assessment of their cases, is important. Some clients might be taken advantage of by people who take their money while making false promises of assistance.
"I don't want you to be wasting your money or be taken for a ride," she tells those she has to turn away.
Terrey and a co-worker provide their services under the guidance of an attorney familiar with immigration issues. The immigration services program at Catholic Social Services is also accredited by the federal Board of Immigration Appeals. The program usually helps between 1,000 and 1,200 people each year.
While Pisgah Legal Services in Hendersonville assists some clients with certain specific immigration issues, the immigration program at Catholic Social Services is the only program in the area that assists low-income people with immigration concerns, Terrey says.
"We are pretty much it," she says. "The immigration process is very complicated. It is complex and detailed."
A mission to follow
Jacquie Crombie, the director of Catholic Social Services in Asheville, says the work of Terrey and others at CSS falls in line with the church's mission of trying to help people who are vulnerable and struggling on the margins of society.
"We try to not turn people away," Crombie says. "The whole mission is to provide services for people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford an attorney."
The immigration program through CSS has helped 700 people so far this year.
In addition to assistance with immigration issues, the 10 staffers at Catholic Social Services in Asheville also help people with domestic adoption, international adoption, pregnancy support, counseling, marriage counseling and refugee resettlement, among other things.
CSS is supported through donations, the Catholic Church and grants.
Fees for immigration services through CSS are typically much less than a private attorney would charge clients, Terrey says.
Consultations cost $45, while the fee for a client to renew a resident card costs $60. Some cases that involve petitioning for the legal immigration of a family member might cost several hundred dollars.
"People come to us and know we are not going to bleed them for money," Terrey says. "They know they can trust us and they can follow up. Because we are associated with the diocese, they are not going to be taken for a ride."
Terrey says she benefits from her work by seeing the gratitude of the clients she helps. Some of those clients have baked her special desserts or given her boxes of fruit as a thank-you.
"It is interesting to see the kindness of people," she says. "If all of us were like that, this would be a great place to live."
Immigration chief pushes eligible Haitians to apply for legal status
Bill Forry, Managing Editor
April 22, 2010
The nation’s top immigration official appealed for help last week as his agency struggles to convince undocumented Haitian nationals living in the U.S. before last January’s earthquake to apply for temporary legal status. Ali Mayorkas, director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), addressed a gathering of immigration lawyers and activists at the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in downtown Boston last Friday.
In the days after the earthquake, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — which includes the USCIS— agreed to offer Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to any Haitian national living in the U.S. as of January 12. The designation allows eligible Haitians to legally live and work in the U.S. for up to 18 months — if they arrived in the U.S. prior to the earthquake. So far, roughly 45,000 Haitian nationals have applied for TPS, a figure that some say is disappointingly low.
Proponents of TPS status say it allows vulnerable Haitians to “come out of the shadows” of illegal status and establish access to much-needed services and, potentially, a path to eventual permanent residency. Skeptics worry that seeking official status here will ultimately lead to deportation after the grace period expires, even though TPS designations have frequently been repeatedly extended in the wake of similar natural disasters in Latin America.
Mayorkas, an American of Cuban descent, acknowledged Friday that a “trust” issue may be dulling the anticipated response rate among Haitians. He asked the immigration activists and attorneys present “to stand together and encourage the community” to apply for TPS recognition.
“If I stand before a group of undocumented Haitian nationals, they might believe me and they might not,” Mayorkas said. “They will trust you.”
“We need the community to speak up,” he added.
Marjean Perhot, director of Refugee and Immigration Services for Catholic Charities, said that her agency has been surprised that more local Haitians have not applied for TPS, despite an aggressive outreach effort organized through her office. Although some 787 Haitians have attended ten TPS workshops — most staged at the Haitian Multi-Service Center in Dorchester — Perhot says that only 178 applications have been prepared.
“We believe there are a significant number who can still apply and may be waiting to see if it’s a legitimate thing,” Perhot said. “One thing that’s very clear is that the Haitian community is in desperate need of reputable legal advice.”
Though pressed repeatedly by advocates, Mayorkas was careful in his remarks to avoid an ironclad commitment that Haitians granted TPS now could expect any extension of protected status after the 18 month window closes next year. Such a renewal decision, he said, would be made based on existing conditions in the country next year.
Mayorkas acknowledged Friday that his agency may have “erred” by making public their initial estimates of how many Haitian nationals might come forward to seek TPS. The deadline for those seeking to get TPS certification is Jan. 22 and Mayorkas said Friday that his office has not yet considered offering more time for filings.
“I don’t think access is necessarily an issue,” he said.
Catholic Charities is planning another TPS workshop at its Columbia Road headquarters of the Haitian Multi Service Center for May 1. Perhot says that they would not be putting so much effort into the outreach effort if she did not believe this offered Haitians “their one chance” for normalizing their status within the US.
Groups ask ID lawmakers to dump immigration bills
Associated Press - February 15, 2010 3:24 PM ET
BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Immigrant advocacy groups want Idaho lawmakers to dump three bills targeting illegal workers and companies that employ them, on grounds such reform should be left to the federal government.
Catholic Charities of Idaho and the Idaho Community Action Network were among critics of the bills at a press conference on Monday.
The strictest of the measures pending in the Idaho Legislature, sponsored by Sen. Mike Jorgenson of Hayden Lake, would require companies to use the federal E-Verify system and would suspend a business's license if it were caught knowingly hiring illegal workers.
Christine Tiddens, a Catholic Charities spokeswoman, told reporters immigration was a "fundamental moral issue which impacts human life and dignity."
Tiddens says the measures up for consideration sow "chaos and fear."
Colorado Springs churches together for border experience
Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs
Feb. 12, 2010
The Pikes Peak Immigrant and Refugee Collaborative (PPIRC) under Catholic Charities is hosting an inter-denominational trip to the U.S./Mexico border at Douglas AZ/Agua Prieta MX from February 21st through February 25th. Representatives from five (5) Christian denominations from Springs churches are getting together to witness some of the reality of the immigration system at the heart of its impact, the border. They will meet with people who are at the center of the border crossing crisis, including some of the people who are motivated to make such a risky and treacherous journey, so that they can better understand why.
Along the way, they will walk in the desert, talk with migrant shelter workers, listen to the experience of the border patrol, and pray together. The purpose of the trip is to bring together people of faith and leadership within the Chrisitian community in Colorado Springs to take a stand for welcoming the stranger in our community. The PPIRC recognizes the need for leadership on this issue from other faith traditions as well, and that this is only a start. Corey Almond, PPIRC Director, and others at the PPIRC believe that our faith leaders have a responsibility to speak with a caring voice to the issue of immigration as it pertains to the lives of decent and good human beings, indeed as it affects our brothers and sisters in faith among us.
Refugee grants doubled
By Nicholas Zifcak
Epoch Times Staff
Grant money available for refugees doubled from $900 to $1800, the State Department announced on Monday. The money is paid to resettlement agencies who find housing and help newly arrived refugees acclimate to the United States.
The program began decades ago, but the amount of money has not increased over time to be of the same value it was when the program began. The purchasing power of the money had declined by 50 percent over the decades since the program started, according to the State Department.
A man who works directly with refugees in California had some questions. “They just let us know in advance that the increase was announced, but there are no details whatsoever so we stand by waiting,” said Loc Nam Nguyen, director of the Immigration and Refugee department at Catholic Charities of Los Angeles.
The Department of State’s Reception and Placement Program includes a one-time per person grant for the first weeks after arrival. Resettlement agencies help refugees find housing and make sure their needs are met.
The initial funds are meant to provide new arrivals with a roof over their head, a bed to sleep in, and other necessities. They also help refugees make the transition into American society. The newly arrived regugees are expected to become self supporting quickly.
Mr. Nguyen said his group's first task when a refugee arrives is to assist relatives to file an affidavit of relationship for the refugee.
“We in Los Angeles receive refugees who have anchor relatives and after the refugees' arrival we will help them to resettle.” They find a place for them to stay and assist them in finding employment, he said. They take responsibility for a newly arrived person for only 90 days, 30 days worth of financial assistance, and 90 days for core services, which include introduction to things they will need to know to get by in American society.
“The combined level of public and charitable resources available to the program is simply insufficient to do a quality job of initial resettlement,” according to a Department of State press release.
A large portion of the increase, at least $1,100, will go to direct support of refugees. Agencies assisting refugees will have some flexibility in allocating those funds and will also be able to spend up to $700 per refugee to cover management costs. The increase in funding is to lower refugee-to-staff ratios, and to support positions coordinating volunteers or develop private sources of funding for refugee reception and placement, or otherwise improve the quality of services refugees receive.
The Department of State called the program an “enduring and ongoing expression of our commitment to international humanitarian principles.”
In 2009 the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) resettled nearly 75,000 refugees in the United States.
Remaking his life after nearly losing it in Columbia
Daniel E. Slotnik
New York Times
The motorcycle pulled alongside Carlos Martin’s Renault during a drive in Cartagena, Colombia. It was Dec. 18, 2000. Mr. Martin did not notice the bike, or the two men riding it, until they opened fire.
Carlos Martin, once an adviser to political officials in Cartagena, Colombia, now works in an electronics store in New York. He and his wife, Lourdes Verhelst, are expecting their first child.
As Mr. Martin hit the floor, his brother, riding with him, pulled out a revolver and shot back. He hit one of the attackers, and they drove off, but not before they shot Cesar Baldiris, who was driving the Renault. Mr. Martin and his brother sped Mr. Baldiris to the hospital, but he had already died.
Mr. Martin had asked Mr. Baldiris to drive minutes earlier, so he could review documents in the back seat.
“My friend go to the front to drive, and, therefore, now I’m alive,” Mr. Martin said, shaking his head. “But my friend died.”
A few weeks ago, in his studio apartment in Lefrak City, Queens, Mr. Martin, 41, spoke of these terrifying events. His wife, Lourdes Verhelst, listened intently. Mr. Martin’s current career as a video consultant at an electronics store is very different from his former life as a freelance political and economic adviser to the mayor of Cartagena. But at least nobody is trying to kill Mr. Martin in Queens.
Mr. Martin never learned who was responsible for the attack, and does not believe he did anything to provoke it.
“They don’t see you like person,” Mr. Martin said. “They see you like you are government, and we have to attack you because you are government.” Mr. Martin resolved to leave Colombia because he felt his bodyguards could not protect him.
Mr. Martin hid at a friend’s home after the shooting. He collected his savings and won asylum in the United States, arriving in New York in February 2001.
“For the beginning it was completely, completely difficult. Doesn’t matter if you have bachelor degree, doesn’t matter if you have master degree, whatever,” said Mr. Martin, who holds both. “You don’t know how to write, you don’t know how to read. Worse, you don’t know how to speak.”
Mr. Martin sought out Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York. Staff members there helped him find an English program, an apartment in the Bronx and work as a building maintenance supervisor. Mr. Martin landed the higher-paying retail job in 2006.
Mr. Martin’s new job allowed him to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens, and about a year ago he returned to Colombia to marry Ms. Verhelst and bid farewell to his mother, who had died. While he was there, he was so afraid that he rarely left his house.
Ms. Verhelst’s visa requires her to return to Colombia after six months away. Now pregnant with their first child, a boy, who is due within days, Ms. Verhelst will go back to Colombia in April. She will stay there with the baby until she can secure documents to be in the United States for a longer period.
“We have no other options,” Ms. Verhelst said in Spanish, as Mr. Martin translated. “So I have to adapt to the situation.”
Mr. Martin earns about $1,600 a month before taxes. In good times, he can earn another $1,600 monthly in commissions. But times have not been good lately for selling electronics, and even after moving to a studio to save on rent, he has been hard-pressed to pay his bills. His monthly expenses run between $1,500 and $1,800 a month, with $900 going toward rent.
So in November Mr. Martin again turned to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, which referred him to Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens. Both agencies are among the seven beneficiaries of The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. A grant of $400 helped Mr. Martin pay that month’s rent, when his income was particularly low.
But Mr. Martin does not complain about his straitened circumstances.
“Definitely, it’s completely different than my previous job in Colombia,” Mr. Martin said. “But the most important is to do something honestly, work and live honestly.”
Catholic Legal Services help hundreds of Haitians with immigration papers
By Alfonso Chardy Crline
Hundreds of undocumented Haitian immigrants crowded inside Notre Dame D'Haiti Catholic Church on Monday morning for help in filing applications for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, a federal immigration program that will allow them to remain legally in the United States and obtain work permits.
A work permit was the priority for many of the more than 500 people who rushed into the church in Little Haiti seeking to file for TPS. Those interviewed at the church said they need jobs to send money to surviving or injured relatives back home, so they can rebuild their lives.
``My house in Port-au-Prince collapsed during the earthquake,'' said Jacques Claudore Deravil, 50, one of the Haitians seeking TPS at the church in Little Haiti. ``I need to work to send money to my wife and children who have been sleeping in the streets since the earthquake.''
Church officials set up an office at the church, 110 NE 62nd Street, to help Haitian immigrants at no charge with the federal TPS application process.
Though Catholic Legal Services is helping Haitian migrants fill out TPS forms for free, the migrants still have to pay the TPS filing fee plus fees for fingerprints and work permits: a total of almost $500. The TPS-related work permit is $340, the TPS filing fee is $50 and the fingerprint fee is $80.
Those who cannot afford to pay can file a separate form requesting a fee waiver. But Randolph McGrorty, executive director of the Archdiocese of Miami's Catholic Legal Services, said he is advising Haitian migrants to pay if they can because asking for a waiver will delay delivery of the TPS status and the work permit.
``Anyone who can get together the fees we are telling them to go head and do it because it will make the process go more quickly,'' said McGrorty. ``Obviously it's a lot of money.''
For now, McGrorty said, Catholic Legal Services staffers are mainly explaining the TPS process to all those who show up. If they have their paperwork ready, staffers fill out the TPS forms. If not, they have to return at a later date. McGrorty said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Homeland Security agency that will process the permits, is not yet prepared to accept applications.
Catholic officials will be at the Little Haiti church from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the rest of the week and later Catholic Legal Services plans to open additional TPS clinics elsewhere in South Florida, said McGrorty.
Catholic Legal Services will also assist TPS applicants at its main office, 150 SE 2nd Avenue, Suite 200, Miami, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. The office, however, was closed Monday due to the Martin Luther King holiday.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a federal agency, will process the large number of applications expected from more than 30,000 undocumented Haitians estimated nationwide -- the majority in South Florida.
The Obama administration announced Friday it would grant TPS to undocumented Haitians who were present in the United States as of Jan. 12 -- the day of the catastropic earthquake that left large portions of Port-au-Prince and other cities in ruins, killing tens of thousands of people.
Those who might arrive after Jan. 12 will be repatriated to Haiti, officials said -- though all deportations to Haiti are suspended for now. While shielded from deportation, Haitian TPS holders cannot become permanent U.S. residents or U.S. citizens. TPS does not provide a path to a green card.
For now, a work permit to land an immediate job is the priority for undocumented Haitian migrants so they can start sending money home to help their families.
``My wife was injured in the earthquake and I need to send money to her to help,'' said Jean Mon, 62, who was at the Little Haiti church asking for TPS.
Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement that the TPS designation was part of the administration's effort to support Haiti's recovery following ``a disaster of historic proportions.''
But she also made it a point to discourage Haitians from leaving the country -- a sign the administration would crack down on illegal immigration.
TPS will enable the Haitians without legal immigration status to remain here legally for 18 months.
TPS is granted to selected immigrants in the United States who cannot safely return to their homelands because of natural disasters, armed conflicts or other emergencies. Those eligible are allowed to remain here, obtain work permits and temporary stays for specific periods -- a status often renewed indefinitely.
In addition to Haiti, the Department of Homeland Security has designated citizens from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan eligible for TPS.
The application process for TPS will be handled by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a federal agency. Haitians in the United States eligible to apply for TPS should call the USCIS toll-free number: 800-375-5283. They can also visit uscis.gov.
Haitians seeking temporary status swarm church
By Hank Tester
"This is a real big deal," said Francesca Jean, a young Haitian woman who wants to be a doctor. "I can get a job, legally." She was one of about 500 Haitians who swarmed the Notre Dame D'Haiti Catholic Church in Miami's Little Haiti Monday. Volunteer immigration lawyers, several from the Haitian American Bar Association, were providing assistance to get the TPS process going.
TPS stands for Temporary Protected Status and allows, in this case, undocumented Haitians the ability to stay in the United States and legally work. Haitians and their political allies had fought for the status for years, but politics always got in the way. The argument was it was too dangerous and economically unjust to send Haitian back home. That plea never carried the day until the Obama Administration reversed U.S. immigration policy. The earthquake disaster at home brought immigration relief here.
Estimates are there could be 30,000 Haitians eligible for TPS in South Florida. If they fill out the proper government paper work they will be allowed to stay in the States for 18 months.
The idea is productive Haitians stateside will be able to send money home to help rebuild their country. "I can do tile, I can paint, I could do plumbing, I do a lot of things," one man said. "If I have my papers I can work, and I can send money back home."
Haitians Seeking Protective Status Speak
Haitians Seeking Protective Status Speak
Many at the information meeting had lost close relatives. "I need to help my family, I lost one of my kids," said one young man.
The U.S. Government has yet to provide the formal application papers and the lawyers do not know when or where they will be filed.
"The process is complicated. Individuals should see the assistance of attorneys and qualified agencies with experience in immigration matters to ensure timely processing and prevent fraud," said Randy McGorarty, Director of Catholic Services. But for sure Haitians in legal limbo now have status. The immigration heat is off.
"A long time coming," said "Julio," who was helping his wife with her status. "I spent a lot of money on immigration for her, but all they did was delay her and she never could go to work." Now she can.
For a widow, an apartment; for a refugee, his family
By Kari Haskell, New York Times
Dec. 29, 2009
In daily articles that run from November to January, the Neediest Cases fund-raising campaign provides a window into the lives of the people it serves. Sometimes a small amount of money provided by the fund can avert a larger disaster; sometimes it can do little more than cushion the sharp edges of struggle. Occasionally, it can change lives.
Though it had been 20 years since Marie Hinkel, 80, had lived in White Plains, when she returned in February, it seemed as if she had never left.
“I can’t go on the street without running into someone I know,” she said one afternoon, sitting in her living room.
The move — to the one-bedroom apartment in a 12-story housing complex for older people — has other benefits, she said. A church close by serves free meals daily; her fellow tenants are friendly.
Many, like herself, are widowed, with little family and a love of cats. (She has two, Frisky, 17, and Muffy, 5.).
“There’s not one person here that I don’t like,” Mrs. Hinkel continued. “Even going to the mailbox, there’s always someone there, offering candies, chocolates, cookies — I don’t eat that stuff anymore because of my cholesterol,” she said, admitting that she sometimes cheats.
But it is the monthly rent, $665, that gives her the greatest satisfaction. “I can’t spend much money,” she said. Her Social Security benefits and the interest from money from the sale of her old apartment in Port Chester, N.Y., are her only income, she said.
Before the sale, she often worried about how she would feed herself and that she would be homeless. “If I wasn’t able to sell my apartment, I don’t know where I’d be,” she said.
Mrs. Hinkel’s predicament was featured in The New York Times in November 2008.
Her husband, Martin, had died at 78 in 2007. His declining health put her $15,000 in debt. Though she didn’t have a mortgage, she was struggling to keep up with her utilities and $752 in maintenance.
Selling her apartment seemed the only answer to her financial distress. But the building’s co-op board turned all the offers down, she said. “It took three or four months for them to go through the paperwork,” she said. “They’d say no and never told me why.”
As time passed, she became more worried.
She turned to a friend, Judy Fink, the director of geriatric services at the Westchester Jewish Community Services, a beneficiary of UJA-Federation of New York, which is one of the seven agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. Ms. Fink helped Mrs. Hinkel apply for a reverse mortgage, which took eight months to process. Meanwhile, Ms. Fink relieved some of Mrs. Hinkel’s financial stress by pulling $550 from the Neediest Cases Fund to cover her maintenance charges.
Near the end of 2008, another offer — an all-cash deal for $100,000 — came in and was quickly approved, to Ms. Hinkel’s relief, for it allowed her to move to White Plains and into the senior housing complex.
“It saved my life,” Mrs. Hinkel said. “I love it here.”
Waiting outside the international arrivals area at John F. Kennedy Airport one day in September 2009, Patrice Mbekeli couldn’t help being anxious. His wife and four children were joining him in New York. He had not seen them since he fled Cameroon in 2007 to escape years of persecution for refusing to support the government.
The reunion was never assured, and at times seemed elusive, said Mr. Mbekeli, interviewed recently by phone from Texas, where he lives now.
After arriving in America, he faced hardship before and after being granted political asylum, including unemployment and homelessness.
In June 2008, he contacted Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, which was among a list of agencies he was given with his political asylum papers. “I was a mathematics teacher for Catholic schools in Cameroon,” he said, explaining why he chose to call.
Catholic Charities helped him enroll in English classes and a training course to become a home health aide, to apply for food stamps and Medicaid and to find housing. Catholic Charities, one of the seven agencies supported by the Neediest Cases Fund, also drew $490 from the fund to pay off part of the $1,390 he owed his immigration lawyer for securing documents necessary for his family to join him in America.
After the details of Mr. Mbekeli’s struggle were written about in The New York Times last year, a reader, Wallace Cooke Jr., a former New York City police officer and a real estate investor, asked Catholic Charities to arrange a meeting with Mr. Mbekeli.
“I knew I wanted to offer him a job right on the spot,” said Mr. Cooke, interviewed recently by phone.
Mr. Mbekeli accepted the job, to maintain a 114-unit residential property that Mr. Cooke had recently bought in Odessa, Tex. The offer included a plane ticket and housing.
“It took him some time to get adjusted,” Mr. Cooke said. “But he has done very well.”
While Mr. Mbekeli learned skills like plumbing and landscaping during the day, at night he found a second job at Wal-Mart. Within months, Mr. Mbekeli was able to save $7,000 — enough to pay for his family’s travel in September, after their visas were approved.
“We just fell in the arms of each other,” said Mr. Mbekeli, describing their reunion. For a few moments they could hardly speak; then the emotional silence erupted into laughter, he said. Ms. Mbekeli picked up their 2-year-old, Camerica, conceived two months before Mr. Mbekeli left Cameroon, and placed her in his arms.
“It was like it was in my dreams every night,” he said. “It was joyous.”
Finding a way, far from home
By Joshua Saul
Leela Subba was born in Bhutan, but now he works at the Burger King on Northern Lights in Anchorage, cooking burgers and fries to help pay the rent on the four-bedroom Midtown apartment he shares with his family.
When Subba was a few years old, the Bhutanese government evicted his family and others of Nepalese ancestry from the country. Subba and his family lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for 18 years before they were allowed to emigrate to Anchorage.
"It was the longest journey that I ever traveled in my life," he said.
The Bhutanese are the newest of the waves of refugees Anchorage has welcomed in the six years since Catholic Social Services launched its Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services program.
In the past RAIS has helped settle Hmong refugees from the jungles of Southeast Asia and Sudanese refugees from the deserts of North Africa, but the newest wave of refugees hail from Bhutan, a country about half the size of Indiana nestled between China and India.
Since April, 50 to 60 Bhutanese refugees have moved to Anchorage.
"It's been incredible to watch them reclaim their culture because their suppression was so complete," RAIS director Karen Ferguson said.
The Bhutanese refugees living in Anchorage are "free cases," which means the U.S. Department of State settles them even though they don't have family already living here.
From 2003 until 2006 Catholic Social Services only handled family reunification refugees, settling evangelical Pentecostals from the former Soviet Union with their relatives in Delta Junction and reuniting a huge wave of Hmong refugees with their relatives in Anchorage.
After working with the Hmong, in 2006 Ferguson decided it was time to ask the State Department for free cases, which are more difficult than family reunification. The Bhutanese refugees currently living in Anchorage are all free cases, which means they landed here with no relatives to explain the bus schedules or help them look for a job.
In order for the State Department to send Bhutanese refugees to Anchorage, Ferguson had to demonstrate that the city had the lingual and cultural foundation to successfully settle them. In order to do that, Ferguson pointed to the fact that Anchorage has a Hindu temple as well as a relatively large population of Nepali speakers due to earlier waves of immigration from both Nepal and Tibet.
"I think it's been a pretty easy transition for them because they had a pretty good education in their refugee camps," said Christine Garbe, supervisor of ASD's English Language Learner Program. "Their English is amazing, and they seem very well educated."
The transition is much more difficult when the new students didn't attend class in the country they come from.
"If you get students who have never had any formal schooling before, they don't know how to hold a pencil," Garbe said.
Subba, the Bhutanese fry cook, studied English for 12 years in the Nepalese refugee camp, and out of the eight subjects he took every term, seven were taught in English. Now, his 13-year-old brother goes to Romig Middle School, and his 18-year-old sister is a student at West High School. Subba's family is fairly typical of Bhutanese refugees coming into Anchorage.
"They're a lot more westernized than our refugees coming from other countries," said Melissa Bartley, Catholic Social Services' volunteer manager.
Every Bhutanese refugee gets $425 from the State Department as a "welcome to Alaska," Ferguson said. Catholic Social Services also provides full social services for the refugees, including case workers to pick them up at the airport and help them apply for work. The agency also has money that can be used directly on behalf of a refugee, for things like bus passes or the fees necessary to get a driver's license.
One of the measures the State Department uses to determine whether a settlement of refugees is successful is to look at how many of the refugees have a job after six months. Drop below 70 percent employment, Ferguson said, and the State Department will think twice before sending more refugees.
"At this very second we're at 81 percent, so we do very well in free cases," Ferguson said.
Currently, Catholic Social Services is resettling more than 110 refugees every year. The vast majority of them are free cases, a vast difference from 2003 when all the agency did was family reunification.
It's a difficult life for a new refugee in Anchorage. Subba's father washes dishes at Spenard Roadhouse, and his mother has been ill ever since Subba's younger brother was born. Subba walks to work at Burger King, where he makes $7.50 an hour, or about $1,200 per month before taxes -- if he's able to work full-time. Subba prefers to work 40 hours a week, but some weeks he only gets 30. The family's monthly rent is $1,300.
Still, Subba likes it here, although he was very surprised to be settled in Alaska.
"It's good," he said. "People are good, but the climate is quite terrible."
Nonprofit helps refugees resettle
By Jennifer Lloyd
December 21, 2009
As Iraqi refugee Haifaa Hassein stepped on a plane to travel to the United States with her four children, she felt as though she was venturing into the unknown.
When she disembarked at the San Antonio International Airport almost a year ago, she was welcomed by the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program. She and her children were taken to a prearranged apartment near the Medical Center. Her fears and concerns began to ease.
The refugee program is one of many area nonprofits the San Antonio Express-News is profiling in its annual Grace of Giving series, which runs daily until Christmas.
The program has been in existence nationwide since 1980, said Paula Walker, the local program's director. In the past two years, the local program grew from helping 600 refugees settle into new lives to more than 1,000. Refugees served come mainly from Bhutan, Burma, Burundi, Cuba, Iran and Iraq.
“These are our international homeless. These are persons who have been displaced and, literally, they feel like they've lost their identity. You're helping them to restart their lives, and America has always been leading the way with accepting the most immigrants and refugees. It puts a lot of spice in our country,” Walker said.
However, the boom in refugee relocation to San Antonio and Texas has caused a lag in how quickly refugees begin receiving food stamps and Medicaid benefits, Walker said.
The economic downturn also makes finding a job more challenging for refugees, many of whom, such as Hassein, have limited English skills. Hassein is looking for work while taking English as a Second Language classes through the program.
Refugees are expected to be self-sufficient within four to six months, Walker said. But because of the tough economy, the success rate for refugees' self-sufficiency has dropped from about 85 percent to around 50 percent.
“In years past, most did not have to depend on food stamps long-term when jobs were more available,” Walker said. “With the current economy, of course, refugees need assistance longer.”
Hassein, a quiet woman with a thankful attitude toward both the country she now calls home and the refugee program, used an interpreter to relay how she and her family fled from Iraq to Syria in 2007 after her two brothers and one of her sons were killed. Her son, Ahmed, was 8 when he died after stepping on an explosive device near their house in Baghdad, she said.
After Hassein's husband, Dhiya Mahmood, was sent back to Iraq from Syria, she had trouble finding a job and supporting her children in Syria. Eventually, she and her children, ranging in age from 3 to 14, were granted refugee status in the U.S., although her husband is still in Baghdad awaiting refugee status. In the meantime, the family chats on the phone or through a Web cam.
Though she misses her parents and husband greatly, Hassein said she loves being able to safely walk around her neighborhood with her kids. She said she also believes her children will receive a much better education in the U.S.
Deported adults leave US citizen children behind
December 20, 2009
By Kristin Collins, McClatchy Newspapers
APEX, N.C. -- In the five months since immigration agents knocked on her door, Norma Villeda has sold her home and furnishings and shuttered her husband's business. She now sleeps in the living room of her sister-in-law's trailer, what's left of her possessions packed into three suitcases.
But the biggest loss has yet to come.
When she returns to her native Mexico at the end of this month, at the order of U.S. immigration officials, she will leave behind her daughter, Nancy, a U.S.-born high school senior who aspires to go to college.
As the federal government has ramped up immigration enforcement in the past few years, it has deported tens of thousands of immigrants, some of whom had lived illegally in the U.S. for a decade or more. The parents among them face a decision: take their American-born children to countries where they might not be able to afford education or medical care, or leave them with friends or relatives in the U.S.
Immigration lawyers, advocates and Mexican consular officials say many are choosing the latter, because they fear their children have no future in their native countries. The situation has become so common that some now counsel parents on how to select a caregiver and transfer legal guardianship.
Attracta Kelly, an immigration lawyer with the N.C. Justice Center, said she has had several clients who chose to leave their children, most because they wanted them to finish their schooling here. In every case, she said the decision was "excruciating."
No more leniency
When Norma and Carlos made it across the Rio Grande as teenagers in the late 1980s, they faced little risk of being deported. Enforcement was scant, and for the few illegal immigrants who were caught, having U.S. born children was often enough to persuade a judge to allow them to stay.
Now, the government grants leniency in only the most extreme cases.
Norma and Carlos are being deported because they failed to show up for an immigration court date in 1997.
They say they were taken in by a Florida scam artist, posing as a lawyer, who promised to get them visas. They paid him $300 each, and when they heard nothing further, figured he had stolen their money.
But when immigration agents found them this summer, they discovered that he had filed a political asylum request and failed to tell them about the court date where it would be heard.
When they didn't show up, the judge ordered them deported, making them fugitives. They say they never knew.
If not for that missed court date, they would have soon become legal residents.
They have parents and siblings who are U.S. citizens, and more than a decade ago, Norma and Carlos were approved for family-based visas. But because of immigration quotas, they are still on the waiting list to receive them.
Ortiz, the ICE spokesman, said he could not comment on this specific case, but he said the agency has recently made an unprecedented effort to find fugitives. There are more than half a million open fugitive cases, but for the first time in years, that number has begun to decline.
ICE's priority is finding fugitives who have committed crimes or pose a threat to national security, Ortiz said. But he added that the agency has a mandate to pursue all fugitives, even those with clean records.
At 5 a.m. on a July morning, immigration agents banged on Carlos and Nancy's door. They took Carlos away in handcuffs, held him in prison and, in October, deported him.
Norma was allowed to remain with their children but must leave the country by Dec. 31 - a process known as voluntary departure. She said she has asked repeatedly to stay just until Nancy graduates high school in June. Immigration officials refused.
"I begged," Norma said, "because she's going to be alone. There will be no one."
Norma will take her son - a U.S. citizen - with her, but she has found a friend willing to take Nancy in until she leaves for college. Nancy -- shy and devoted to her mother -- agreed.
Norma says she wants Nancy to get the education she couldn't, growing up in the Mexican state of Queretaro. There, her family didn't have enough money for food or school tuition. Secondary education in Mexico is not free.
Nancy grew into a teenager who spent weekends at the mall and the movies -- a child who could not imagine wishing for a pencil with an eraser.
Nancy says she knew her parents could not get drivers licenses or travel out of the country. She knew that other immigrants like them had been deported. But, mostly, she thought of her family as no different from those of her American friends, most of whom she had known since grade school.
"I never thought this kind of thing could happen to us," Nancy said, "because we were just such a normal family."
Amid the tumult, Nancy has taken SATs and met with college advisers. She is completing applications to Meredith and Salem colleges. She doesn't know yet how she will pay tuition.
Carlos said that, in two months in Queretaro, he has found only an occasional day's work. He lives with Norma's parents and washes cars to earn money. Norma said she hopes to find work in a factory, earning about $17 a week.
He and Norma are barred from returning to the United States for 10 years, even to visit. But Norma is holding onto her dreams for Carlitos, too.
She says that in four years, when Nancy finishes college, she might send Carlitos to live with his sister, giving him a shot at college, too.
For now, as she savors these last few days with Nancy, Norma says she is trying to focus on the good that has sprung from this trial.
"It's giving my kids a lesson," she said. "They have to be strong. They have to fight. They have to work hard for what they want, because nothing is going to come easy."
Refugee families celebrate new lives, Christmas traditions
By Michelle Lee
Press of Atlantic City.com
ATLANTIC CITY — Last year, Joseph Klaw and his relatives were living in a refugee camp on the border between Thailand and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
This year, the 22-year-old is living in Atlantic City and working at Trump Plaza, thanks to a refugee resettlement program run by Catholic Charities.
“I’m happy,” Klaw said while wearing a red traditional outfit and surrounded by dozens of relatives and friends. “I like the people and the opportunity.”
Catholic Charities brought Klaw to the resort six month ago, and his parents, brother and sisters joined him several weeks later.
And on Sunday, the Klaws experienced their first Christmas celebration with dozens of other families at party held at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church on Mississippi Avenue.
Klaw listened to religious and secular songs in his native Kayah, English and other languages. He brought a traditional beef and vegetable dish to share with others. His father, Elder Klaw Reh, even performed a tune on the harmonica.
The Klaws were among more than 70 refugees and eight volunteers who showed up for an unique Christmas celebration hosted by Catholic Charities.
The parish hall was a festive, decorated with Christmas trees, nutcracker cutouts and posters of Iraq and states in Myanmar. Holiday tunes such as “Joy to the World” and “Jesus came down to this Earth” shared the same stage as traditional songs and dances from Myanmar. Donated gifts of clothing, toys and school supplies were passed out. Everyone ate a meal of traditional noodle and rice dishes.
Most of the families were from the Karen and Kayah states of Myanmar, and many of them came to Atlantic County within the past year, said Greg Kilpatrick, the Catholic Charities refugee-resettlement program coordinator. Other families who attended the party were different ethnicities from Myanmar: Arakanese, Mon, Chin. There was also one family from Iraq. All of the Myanmar refugees fled to escape persecution, killings and torture from the Burmese military regime, according to Koko Thein, a case manager and translator for Catholic Charities and a former refugee.
Kaitlyn Muller, program director of Catholic Charities refugee and immigration services said the Christmas celebration is important because many refugee families often get separated when they leave their homeland.
“Now they can come together and celebrate in an opportunity they wouldn’t have in their own country,” Muller said.
More importantly, the families can practice their own religion and traditions without fear of retribution, said Rose Thein, a volunteer with Catholic Charities who came to the United States 20 years ago. Most of the families who attended the celebration are Christian, while others are Buddhist or follow animism, the spiritual belief in the power of natural things such as plants, rivers and mountains.
“All they’d seen is misery, sorrow and persecution and atrocities from all sides,” Thein said. “So (here), they are free to see their friends in their faith (and it) is a blessing to us. This all happen because of the grace of God and Jesus Christ.”
The number of refugee families has been growing in the Garden State.
Catholic Charities helped 340 families resettle in New Jersey from January to September of this year,and a quarter of them were placed in Atlantic County, Muller said. The organization usually helps 200 people resettle each year. The 2007 Christmas party, the first one held for the refugee program, drew 15 families, Koko Thein said.
The attendees said they liked the cultural aspect of the Christmas celebration.
Pi Kee, a 41 year-old ceiling installer from Somers Point, said through Thein’s translation that he enjoyed the bamboo dance because it is very popular back in his homeland of Myanmar, and it is performed every New Year. Kee, who came with his wife, Day Kyu and four other relatives, said his other favorite part was singing Christmas songs and coming together with families of other nationalities.
Sa Lin, a father of five from Somers Point, called it the “most enjoyable festival all year round,” Thein said.
Lin, who is Muslim, said he didn’t feel strange celebrating a Christian holiday, and his family brought a traditional curry to share. While their religion prohibits singing other religious songs, Lin said his oldest son, Abdula, 15, joined in the bamboo dance.
The children, on the other hand, gravitated to food and other goodies.
Newon Lah, 10, said he loved eating chocolate and the Arakanese noodles made by his mother, Ma Lah. His brother Swee, 9, said he enjoyed the dancing and getting presents, especially two plastic balls that stick together.
The celebration also had a special significance for Les and Irene Zan, a married couple from Paoli, Pa., who drives to the resort once a month to help out refugee families.
The Zans — with some help from their local church, the Great Valley Presbyterian Church in Malvern, Pa. — collected and gift-wrapped more than 400 gifts to distribute to the former refugees. The Zans had to use a truck and a sport utility vehicle to haul the presents during their two-hour trip.
“I just want to see the smiles on the kids faces,” Irene Zan said.
Les Zan, whose family fled Myanmar, came to the United States as a child in 1969. Les, now an electrical business analyst, said he was following the example of his father, Spencer, who helped other refugee families in Atlantic City for years before he died in February 2008.
“My observation, when I look at the faces of the young people, (is) where will they be five, ten years from now?” Les Zan said. “I hope they learn English and assimilate to the culture and become productive citizens.”