Second Year Anniversary Highlights
Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services recently accepted its 541st case since the program’s inception in 2016. Sadly during the same period, Catholic Charities referred 452 applications to other attorneys due to a lack of resources.
“The need for trustworthy and affordable legal services for immigrants surpasses available resources across our community,” said Ted Bergh, Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio CEO. “Ohio has less than 35 immigration lawyers available to take on immigration cases regardless of a person’s ability to pay or immigration status. This shortage increases the risk of an immigrant being exploited.”
Catholic Charities established Immigration Legal Services to address the critical demand for representation for unaccompanied children. Hamilton County has the largest concentration of unaccompanied children in the state. These children crossed the border alone. Apprehended and detained by border officials, the children were released to sponsors in Hamilton County. Catholic Charities assesses local sponsors – who are often extended family members – to ensure children are being released into safe environments. The Safe Release program requires all sponsors to be finger printed and includes home studies.
More than 330 potential sponsors were finger printed in 2016, another 440 in 2017 and more than 300 so far in 2018. Other services provided include filing for asylum, green cards, employment authorization and educational workshops. Since Immigration Legal Services were established at Catholic Charities:
• Provided 30 people in removal proceedings with representation,
• 228 refugees participated in green card clinics, and
• 1,110 participated in Know Your Rights and other legal presentations.
Today, Sister Mary assists the family of a U.S. Marine complete their green card applications. The Marine’s father, mother and sister fled El Salvador. They’re proud of their son and grateful for the opportunity to live safely in the United States.
The Immigration Legal Services team includes an immigration attorney, paralegal, Board of Immigration Appeals accredited representative, safe release specialist, and a part-time intake specialist.
Dreamers Face Uncertainty
“I’ve never known any other home,” Isabel said. “I was 14 years old when I applied for DACA. It meant everything for me.”
With DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Isabel could legally stay in the United States. She learned to speak English and followed the law. She got her license at 16, graduated from school and worked as a dispatcher at UPS.
When she went to renew her DACA last year, a routine process for her, she received a rejection letter.
“I cried. I felt helpless. I knew I’d lose my job because my DACA had expired. All I can do is wait,” Isabel said.
Her husband, Mark, shares her frustration. He said, “As a white male in America, I hear people talk about immigration and listen to their views. I know she did nothing wrong. It’s irritating. It’s all out of our hands.”
They turned to Sister Mary Wendeln, a volunteer with Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services, for assistance. Sister Mary explained several DACA clients received rejection letters due to delays in processing even though they had been postmarked ahead of the deadline. She made the necessary calls and appeals and now Isabel’s DACA renewal is under review.
Genesis, 25, listens intently as Isabel recounts her experience. Genesis left Mexico when she was 14 to reunite with family living in Cincinnati.
“When I arrived, I felt at home immediately,” Genesis said. “Now, I have a six-year-old son who is an American citizen. When I received my DACA rejection letter, I felt so bad. I just looked at my son and cried. I can’t imagine leaving him.”
Sister Mary was also able to assist Genesis in getting her DACA renewal reviewed. About 4,000 DACA applicants had been held up nationally including five Catholic Charities’ clients locally.
Both Isabel and Genesis are waiting and praying that their DACA applications will be renewed. Renewal provides another two years of continuing the lives they’ve built in the United States. Neither wants to think what will happen after the next two years.
Will DACA remain an option? Will Congress create a path to citizenship for DREAMers?
“It’s like a door being held open and shutting as you come forward,” Genesis said.
To support DREAMers, write your representative in Congress and urge them to support a path to citizenship before DACA expires in March. More than 15,000 letters have been sent to Congress from Ohio so far. That’s almost two letters for every Ohio DACA applicant on file.
Long Journey to Citizenship
He had no choice. He feared for his life.
Located in the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan had begun a campaign in the 1990s targeting the Lhotshampa. The Lhotshampa people are Hindu and the King of Bhutan was Buddhist.
“He wanted us to be one nation, one people,” Tara said. “This meant we needed to speak the same language, embrace the same culture and dress the same. The Nepali language we spoke was banned. Our Nepali books were banned. In school, we were forced to eat beef, and our teachers would tell us to go back to Nepal.”
Some of the Lhotshampa began to protests for basic human rights. This led to arrests and expulsions.
While Tara wasn’t involved in the protests, he knew of other classmates who had joined in the demonstrations. Rumor had it that they fled to India to avoid arrest. He had an aunt in India and figured it would be closer to flee to her home than to his parents’ village. His aunt was happy to see him and relieved that he was safe. But getting word to his parents was dangerous as India supported Bhutan’s campaign against the Lhotshampa.
Once his parents learned where Tara was living, his mother visited. Lhotshampa women were allowed to travel to markets in border towns where his aunt lived. Concerned for his safety, his mother took him to stay with other relatives in Nepal.
Meanwhile the government harassment intensified. More and more people were being forced to leave homes and farms that had been in their families for generations. So when Tara’s parents were given the ultimatum to turn over their son or leave Bhutan, they walked away from their farm, cattle and crops.
They were among the 100,000 people displaced from Bhutan 1992 and 1993. They walked for two days, reaching Nepal where they were directed to one of seven refugee camps. Tara joined them.
“We were given bamboo poles and plastic to make tents. Strong winds would blow the plastic roofs off and heavy rains seeped in to flood everything,” Tara said. “We had no bathrooms. A lot of people died of disease.”
As international relief organizations arrived, conditions improved in the refugee camps. Caritas started schools. Tara lived there from 1992 to 2012. He finished his education, taught others. He fell in love, married and saw his first child born.
Countries like the United States agreed to accept Bhutanese refugees in 2007. Most countries set limits, but the United States did not. Tara’s parents started the resettlement process in 2008 and were welcomed by the United States in 2010. Tara followed with his family in 2012.
While they initially resettled in Denver, Colorado, they eventually move to Cincinnati because extended family members thought they would be happier here. Tara found the lush green hills reminiscent of the hills of Bhutan.
He joined Catholic Charities as a caseworker, resettling refugees in 2016. He empathizes with their experiences, provides hope and assists them in beginning new lives.
“No one wants to be a refugee. Refugees are neglected people,” Tara explains. This is why he was so excited to become a United States Citizen earlier this year. Refugees are able to apply for citizenship after living in the United States for five years.
“I’m 43 now. This is the first time I’ve been a citizen of any country. I am no longer a refugee,” Tara said.
Love and Faith Endures
Papy left civil war and violence behind in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but he never lost touch with his childhood friend Bibishe. Their families were close, and she lived nearby.
Papy smiles warmly recalling himself and Bibishe as children. Life was simpler.
He left his childhood home to study at a university in Kinshasa, the capital city. Upon graduation he accepted a job in the eastern part of the country. Immediately, he realized he was in the wrong place as he witnessed fighting and bloodshed. He fled to Zimbabwe where he worked as a translator for foreign embassies and was active in church. Papy said, “I’m a man of God.”
The entire time, Papy stayed in contact with Bibishe. He worried about her safety.
Once the United Nations Refugee Resettlement program vetted Papy, he was assigned to Cincinnati. He recalls Catholic Charities meeting him at the airport and taking him to his first home. Catholic Charities assisted Papy in securing his first job packing medical supplies. Now he works at an assisted living facility taking care of disabled residents.
Papy reached out to Catholic Charities in preparation for his U.S. Citizenship test last year. He prepared for 100 questions because he was unsure which questions would be asked. He passed easily.
As a U.S. citizen, he was ready to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to marry Bibishe. Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services ensured all of the travel documents were in order.
“I praised God. I was so happy to see her safe and alive,” Papy said. At long last, they married. “I’m a man of faith.”
With the support of Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services, Bibishe’s Immigrant Visa was approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services; and was forwarded to U.S Consulate and U.S Embassy in Kinshasa for her immigrant visa insurance. Papy prays Bibishe will be with him soon so they can live their lives together.
Unaccompanied Child Gets Fresh Start
Dominic was just 13 when he dropped out of school to begin working to help support his family. His parents worked but with seven children they struggled.
By the time he was 14, Dominic started working as a street vendor in Guatemala City. He’d leave his family home in the mountains, take a 10-hour bus ride into the city and work there two months at a time. He traveled alone, lived with parental supervision and slept in the streets.
Then he’d travel back to the mountains to share his meager earnings with his family.
Life on the streets was difficult. Dominic was robbed several times, and his meager earnings did not meet the needs of his family. So at 17, he left Guatemala to live with an older sister in Cincinnati.
He’s studying English classes at a local technical school and with the guidance of Catholic Charities Immigration Law team, filed a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status petition. He applied for a green card while the petition was being reviewed and received a temporary work permit.
Dominic’s visa petition was approved last year but due to a backlog he’s still waiting for his green card.