Local immigration services to get boost with Catholic Charities group
Aspen Times Staff Writer
The hole in services left by the sudden demise last year of Asistencia Para Latinos continues to be filled in by other agencies, both nonprofit and for-profit.
The latest addition to the mix of service agencies is the Western Slope office of Catholic Charities, which is poised to begin offering immigration-counseling services as soon as this spring.
Tom Ziemann, director of the regional Catholic Charities, said that advertisements for a paralegal will run statewide in the coming weeks.
Once hired, the paralegal will be based in Glenwood Springs and assist immigrants in Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys in their dealings with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. The paralegal will work closely with Catholic Charities’ Denver-based immigration attorney.
“This is a service I feel is needed in both valleys, and that people would be willing to drive to Glenwood Springs as a central location to receive assistance,” Ziemann said.
Catholic Charities – Western Slope is a 2-year-old offshoot of the Archdiocese of Denver’s Catholic Charities. The Denver chapter of the organization has been providing INS-certified immigration services for 22 years, Ziemann said in a Feb. 8 letter to the Pitkin County commissioners.
The new paralegal position is being funded by federal and local governments. So far, the agency has secured an $18,000 grant from the federal government. Catholic Charities has received verbal commitments of financial support from a number of local governments, Ziemann said.
The Aspen Valley Community Foundation is also looking closely into providing support for the endeavor, said Marcie Musser, president of the foundation’s board of directors.
“I’ve got some verbal commitments out there, we just need some firm commitments,” Ziemann said. “But we feel good about getting going with this position right now.”
Unlike Asistencia Para Latinos and Servicos Para Hispanos, the for-profit organization that sprung up in the wake of its demise, Catholic Charities is certified to provide immigration counseling by the INS Board of Immigration Appeals.
Servicos Para Hispanos does have an INS-trained employee who assists people with their immigration paperwork. Servicos Para Hispanos director Debbie Wycoff could not be reached for comment.
The Catholic Charities paralegal will help people organize citizenship papers, educate victims of domestic violence about their enhanced status under U.S. immigration law, and straighten out problems with visas. The services are not limited to those of the Catholic faith, Ziemann said.
He said once those services are up and running, Catholic Charities’ next step will be to raise money for an advocate/case manager and a bilingual receptionist at the Glenwood office.
The advocate/case manager will provide referral services and help immigrants adjust to their new culture. Ziemann said a similar position is currently being set up in Avon with a $25,000 grant from Eagle County.
The new advocate/case manager there will be required to set up daylong orientation seminars for immigrants – hopefully with the support of local businesses – to school them on the basics of navigating American society.
“The idea behind this is to prevent problems before they occur,” Ziemann said. “If you’re dealing with a Mexican police officer on a highway somewhere, I imagine it’s a lot different than it is here.”
Ideally, he said, companies will pay their immigrant employees to attend the class. In return, the seminar will generate employees who are more savvy and less likely to miss time at work.
Ziemann said the money has yet to be secured for a similar position for the Roaring Fork Valley.
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