[Immigrantrightsnynj] Church opening center to offer immigrants low-cost legal aid
Immigrant Rights NYNJ
immigrantrightsnynj at list.afsc.org
Fri Feb 29 16:25:26 EST 2008
Church opening center to offer immigrants low-cost legal aid
Friday, February 29, 2008
BY JULIE O'CONNOR
A new immigration center will be inaugurated in a Dover church Sunday,
with the mission of offering the town's mostly Latino residents low-cost
"The purpose is to help the undocumented immigrant population in Dover
to process their paperwork properly," said the Rev. Daniel Martinez of
the First United Methodist Church.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Eirene Immigration Center, whose
name includes the Greek word for "peace," is scheduled for noon at the
East Blackwell Street church. Mayor James Dodd and members of the board
of aldermen have been invited, said Martinez.
The first Eirene Immigration Center was founded in 2000 at the Asbury
United Methodist Church in Camden. In addition to Dover, it has since
expanded to Butler, Tuckerton and Asbury Park.
"There are so many people who cannot afford to become citizens," said
Lilian Cotto, who founded the original Camden center.
Its immigration lawyer hopes to visit Dover every two months, and will
communicate with clients through its staff at the church, said Alma
Aguirre, a Drew University divinity student who will work in the center.
It will be open in Dover twice a week. The legal assistance costs $50,
but that fee can be waived based on a client's need, Cotto said. In
addition, clients must pay federal immigration fees of $400 to $600.
"For any little thing they have to pay a lot of money," Cotto said. "Our
help financially is for the attorney."
Martinez said that last year he took three men to an attorney who
charged $2,500 just to begin the paperwork to apply for citizenship. It
costs $70 to be fingerprinted for a green card, Cotto said.
Many clients have expired work permits and need to petition for a
pardon, a process that she said can cost up to $1,000. Others are
permanent residents petitioning to bring a spouse, child or parent to
the United States.
Besides providing affordable legal assistance, Cotto said the center
offers counseling for immigrants on issues like "culture shock."
"They have so many emotional problems," she said. "They're excited about
coming to the country, and it's nothing like what they've been told it's
going to be ... they start missing their country or family, and they
would like to go back -- but they can't."
Julie O'Connor may be reached at joconnor at starledger.com or (973)
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