Session offers help in immigration law

Session offers help in immigration law

June 27th, 2009 by Perla Trevizo in News


* Catholic Charities of East Tennessee Office of Immigrant Services provides low-cost assistance for those who can't afford an attorney in the areas of: petitioning for family members, adjustments of status, renewing work permits, citizenship and naturalization, affidavits of support and replacement of immigration documents. 865-971-3550.

* The St. Andrews Center will start an immigration clinic based on the Justice For Our Neighbor model, which provides free, professional legal services to immigrants in monthly clinics. 423-629-9872.

* Chattanooga State Community College's paralegal program also will have an immigration law clinic based on the Catholic Charities model. 423-697-3354.

It's an all-too-common occurrence, says immigration attorney Terry Olsen.

An illegal immigrant hears about a company or person that can help him achieve legal residence. Promises are made to fill out paperwork and deal with immigration law -- for a fee, of course.

Unfortunately, too many are scams, and the immigrants end up no closer to legal residency -- but shorter on dollars -- than when they started, Mr. Olsen said.

"I don't think the community is very informed at all," said Natahly Perez, program manager for the Office of Immigrant Services of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee. "There's a lot of misleading information on television, or little stores that claim to help and they really don't."

To help spread good information, Mr. Olsen organized a meeting Friday at the St. Andrews Center to teach people more about immigration law in the United States and the possibilities people have to reside legally in the country.

"The general goal for today's session is to make sure you don't go to a translator who says they know immigration law when they don't and charge you to fill out immigration forms they are not accredited to fill," Mr. Olsen told the group of five people at the session.

"I think the session was very helpful; it answered a lot of the questions I had," said Juana Rafael, a Guatemalan native on the path to becoming a permanent resident.

Mr. Olsen, chairman of the Tennessee Bar Association immigration law section, has tried to get the information out before. He said he and a paralegal from Chattanooga State Technical Community College spent about 10 hours in April and May, providing free immigration law consultation hours at the St. Andrews Center.

"By mid-May, it appeared that no one else in the immigrant community wanted a consultation," he said. "I think this happened because most of the consultations resulted in my informing the person that nothing could be done for their situation at this time."

The St. Andrews Center is an ecumenical cooperative started in 2004 as an extension of the work being done in Hispanic ministries within the Chattanooga district of the United Methodist Church.

As part of his involvement with an immigration law clinic that the St. Andrews Center is planning for the near future, Mr. Olsen invited Catholic Charities of East Tennessee to speak at Friday's meeting and discuss what can and cannot be done.

"We try to do basic information sessions where we give an Immigration 101 crash course in two hours to show them how the system is and if they are eligible or not, and if they're not, then at least they'll be prepared should the law change," Ms. Perez said.