County throws its weight behind Catholic Latino support agency |

County throws its weight behind Catholic Latino support agency

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Pitkin County yesterday became one of the first governments in the valley willing to throw money behind Catholic Charities’ effort to fill a gap in advocacy and counseling for immigrants.

The county commissioners informally agreed to donate $10,000 toward Catholic Charities-Western Slope, which is hoping to fill the void left by Asistencia Para Latinos’ swift and sudden departure at the end of last year.

Catholic Charities-Western Slope director Tom Ziemann promised the money would be used to open an immigration counseling office in Glenwood Springs in the coming weeks. As financial support grows, the agency plans to add a case worker to help people with questions arising from day-to-day life as an immigrant.

“I’m thinking we need to have those immigration services as soon as possible, because it’s so key to so many people. The advocacy, which is very important, can come later,” Ziemann said after the meeting.

The immigration counseling offered by Catholic Charities is certified – a blessing of sorts – by the federal government’s Board of Immigration Appeals. And while it won’t be free, Ziemann said the feds require that the advice be affordable.

The county commissioners said they were glad to see Catholic Charities filling the gap left by Asistencia Para Latinos. Asistencia had long been the primary outlet for Hispanic immigrants seeking advice on everything from employment to housing to immigration law. But several commissioners were concerned that the advice, especially family planning, would be mixed with theology.

Both Jack Hatfield and Dorothea Farris said they were particularly worried that Catholic Charities would steer immigrant mothers away from organizations like Planned Parenthood, which advises its clients on family planning alternatives that include abortion.

The Catholic Church is a longtime and vocal opponent of a woman’s right to choose, and the commissioners were worried that church policy would override the best interests of parents seeking advice from Catholic Charities.

“So many social problems are related to population growth,” said Hatfield, a Catholic commissioner from Snowmass Village. “Many of us believe there is an unequivocal place in today’s world of family planning.”

Ziemann said that once a case worker is on board, he or she will be directed to simply hand out a list of all the valley’s family planning services to clients who ask for help. But, he added, he doesn’t expect that to happen very often.

“If they’re thinking about health care, they are probably not thinking of Catholic Charities,” Ziemann said. “Hispanics, especially, know the church and its positions on these matters.”

Silvia Barbera, the longtime head of Asistencia Para Latinos who left the area 15 months before the agency crumbled, reportedly told Ziemann that questions about family planning only came up once or twice a year.

Catholic Charities derives much of its support from the Archdiocese in Denver. It has been on the Front Range for more than 20 years and on the Western Slope for two. It currently offers the kind of individual case work that Asistencia used to provide in Eagle County, in big part because of a $25,000 grant from the Eagle County commissioners.

Ziemann said he is in the process of meeting with other elected officials in the valley to garner as much support as possible. Like Pitkin County, other governments have grant money available that had been originally earmarked for Asistencia Para Latinos.

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