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CURRENT ISSUE:  April 6, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 7   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
 
Divine Mercy Congress comes to Oakland for annual event
 
New directory a one-stop aid to finding social services
Catholic Charities expands immigration talks to parishes
 

By Michele Jurich
Staff Writer


Sebastian Zavala, chief program officer of Catholic Charities of the East Bay, discusses immigration before the priests of the diocese on March 26.
ALBERT C. PACCIORINI/The Catholic Voice

While immigration clinics might be business-as-usual in some parishes, Catholic Charities of the East Bay is planning to bring workshops on immigration issues to five parishes to start a conversation.

"This is the first time we're really involving not just the legal program, but Catholic Charities, the agency, going into the parishes," said Sebastian Zavala, chief program officer. The goal, he said, "isn't just to reach the parishes we usually go to with immigration events, like St. Jarlath, St. Elizabeth, St. Louis Bertrand."

"This new approach is really to meet with the parishioners in different areas and to approach immigration not just as a parish issue, but as a regional issue — in Alameda County, north and south; Contra Costa County, west, central, east — to see what is it that parishes really want to do, to start that dialogue between us and the parishioners on what we can do for the immigrants in our communities."

Five events are planned over the next few months to start the conversation.

"These aren't going to be legal consultations," Zavala said. "We want to start the dialogue on what we know about immigration, what they know about immigration and where we see our common interests, our common goals, and how we can start to reach those goals together."

Zavala's passion for his work is deeply rooted in family and faith.

"I went to law school to focus on immigration," he said. "I had seen the issue my whole life. I am a first-generation Peruvian American. I grew up in immigrant communities here and I really saw that need."

The call for this type of conversation is rooted in Catholic social teaching, said Stephen Mullin, parish outreach manager for Catholic Charities.

 
Join the conversation about immigration

April 23, 7 p.m.
, Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, 500 Fairview Ave., Brentwood

May 16, 9-10:30 a.m., St. Patrick Church, 825 Seventh St., Rodeo

June 11, 7:30 p.m
., Holy Spirit Church, 37588 Fremont Blvd., Fremont

Pending: Christ the King Church, Pleasant Hill; St. Theresa Church, Oakland
 
"The U.S. bishops have been major player to move immigration reform along, particularly to save our Catholic families," Mullin said. "We've all been called as Christians and Catholics not just to welcome the stranger, but to recognize that they really are our neighbors. They've been living with us for a generation. They contribute to our church, contribute to our society already."

Upcoming action on immigration through executive order on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) could affect as many as 60,000 people in the East Bay, Zavala said.

Additionally, a study shows that two-thirds of children in the East Bay have at least one parent who is an immigrant.

"When you talk about immigration, you can't talk just about the immigrant person themselves; there's always family involved," Zavala said. "That family most of the time has mixed status: Some of the people are residents, some people aren't; some people are citizens, some aren't."

Helping protect the families from unscrupulous activities is important.

"What we see right now is that there's not enough places in the community for people to go to get help," Zavala said.

Catholic Charities is part of the solution. Last year, there were three staff attorneys; this year, that number has doubled.

What they are up against in the community, Zavala said, are "notarios, or unscrupulous professionals who tell people, 'hey, give me 200 bucks and I'll fill out the paperwork for you. By the way, do you want to buy some car insurance while you're here?'

"There's all these scams going on in the community. You're already hearing it on the radio, Spanish stations, people promising ,'You give me a thousand dollars, I'll save you a spot in line.'

"There's no line to be saving spots for at this point," Zavala said.

The workshops, Mullin said, are "for those of us sitting in the pews, so we can learn. Sitting next to me in church, or in my classroom, is somebody who may be in need, or their parents may be in need.

"How can I, as a regular parishioner, help them so they're not getting shortchanged by people who say they're going to give legal advice, charging them exorbitant fees?"

That's where the information from the workshop can help. "We provide information on where not to go to get legal advice; how to avoid these scams," Zavala said.

The dialogue that grows from the initial workshops might turn into action later. Catholic Charities will find out "which parishes really want to join us in providing services, which parishioners want to join with us and become accredited representatives, which of the parishes have space to hold these workshops or hold application presentations or events," Zavala said.

With a network of 200 legal professionals who can help at events down the road, Catholic Charities will be looking for volunteers who might be able to provide the infrastructure of the events: people who can be sure doors are unlocked, copies are made, greet and guide people, compare completed applications to a checklist.

Zavala said advocates he looks up to say reform of this magnitude "happens once in your life."

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