ABQ immigrant charity sees influx of clients - Albuquerque Journal

ABQ immigrant charity sees influx of clients

Catholic Charities of Central New Mexico staff, from left, Isabel Otero, manager of immigrant legal assistance program, Dolores Nuñez, development director, and Carol Tonihka, chief program officer. (Maggie Shepard/Albuquerque Journal)

Days after the City Council reaffirmed Albuquerque’s immigrant friendly identity amid national controversy over changes in federal immigration enforcement, one of the area’s most active immigration assistance charities says it’s still open for business and seeing a flush of clients.

That flush is fueled more by changes in federal enforcement practices than the city’s immigration-friendly status, which bans the use of city resources to enforce immigration violations, staff at Catholic Charities of Central New Mexico said Friday afternoon during its weekly immigration consultation office hours in Albuquerque.

“And we see the rush during tax season,” said Isabel Otero, manager for Catholic Charities’ immigration services program.

Catholic Charities is one of several agencies in Albuquerque that offers free or inexpensive legal assistance for people seeking permanent residency status or citizenship for themselves or family members.

Of the 400-500 applications her office process a year, Otero said, about 99 percent result in some form of accepted application, though the federal approval process can be lengthy. About 95 percent of the applications are from individuals who moved to the U.S. from Mexico.

Staff also said Friday that there has been a recent influx of immigrants from the Middle East and Vietnam seeking help at the charity.

While Catholic Charities of Central New Mexico is funded mostly through government grants and private contributions, Otero’s wing of the operation is funded by payments from the immigrants. Costs for her staff’s legal services range from about $900 to $1,200.

Those costs are on top of the expenses for the charity’s mandatory background check for immigration assistance clients, a $450 federally required health exam and the fees charged by the federal government, which are usually about $1,700 for an application, Otero said.

In addition to immigration assistance, Catholic Charities, located on Bridge just west of Goff, also offers high-end but low-cost child care, support programs for refugees, a housing assistance program for homeless people and families, and a substantial education system built for immigrants seeking to learn English and education certificates, such as a GED.

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