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A Success Story in Capacity Building: Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland

Feb 11, 2014
Laura Burdick

An incredible story of perseverance, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland has recently reconstituted its immigration legal services (ILS) program, with two full time attorneys and a full time Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) accredited representative.  Over 780 immigration consultations have been provided since 2011, and the program expects to generate 28% of its budget in fee income this year.  The program’s current success is no small feat and was achieved with considerable effort over the last three years.  Cleveland’s story is a case study for CLINIC’s capacity building services and an inspiration for other agencies seeking to grow their immigration programs.

In 2010, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland had no immigration program when the agency was selected by CLINIC to receive a capacity building grant through the USCIS Office of Citizenship. The two-year grant funded Catholic Charities to start a citizenship legal services program housed in the diocese’s well established refugee resettlement department, as well as a citizenship education program to augment the diocese’s already existing, robust vocational ESL program. 

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland already had BIA agency recognition, but had had no accredited staff for many years.  Due to staff turnover and the difficulty of marketing the citizenship classes to a new population, the citizenship program struggled.

However, in November 2011, things began to turn around for the citizenship program. An experienced immigration attorney was hired who was able to take on a diverse case load, followed by a part time paralegal with Spanish speaking skills. The agency began concerted outreach efforts.  The legal services started growing and gaining momentum. 

Throughout, CLINIC advised Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland on program design and management issues.  Staff attended CLINIC’s Program Management Training in 2012 and several CLINIC immigration law trainings.  The program’s paralegal received BIA partial accreditation in July 2013.

With the help of CLINIC and funding from local foundations like the Cleveland Foundation, the ILS program now provides direct immigration services to refugees and other immigrants not previously served within the diocese. For example, ILS assists the Cleveland Immigration Court in providing direct representation to juveniles in removal proceedings. Furthermore, the ILS program handles a wide variety of cases, including but not limited to family-based visa petitions, applications for permanent residency and citizenship, representation in deportation and removal hearings, and asylum and Special Immigrant Juvenile cases.

When asked to describe the impact of CLINIC’s services, program director Tom Mrosko and attorney Sala Gembala cited CLINIC’s “invaluable” technical assistance, “awesome” training opportunities, and crucial funding that helped kick-start the program and keep it afloat. 

CLINIC congratulates Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland on its focus to keep building capacity during difficult circumstances.

To find out more about the work CLINIC’s Center for Citizenship and Immigrant Communities is doing to establish and expand the legal support architecture of charitable immigration programs nationwide, visit:  https://cliniclegal.org/programs/center-citizenship-and-immigrant-communities.

*Laura Burdick is a Field Support Coordinator and manages CLINIC’s National Capacity Building Project