Immigrant-aid agency loses county money
Catholic Charities now looking for a way to fill $25,000 hole in budgetEAGLE COUNTY – “We don’t ask.”That, in a nutshell, is Catholic Charities’ policy toward its clients’ immigration status. That policy will cost the Avon office about $25,000 this year. For the past several years, Eagle County has given Catholic Charities $25,000 to help run its immigrant services office in Avon. That grant isn’t coming for 2007 because of a new state law. It’s a hard hit to an office that helps immigrants with landlord-tenant disputes, complaints against employers and legal paperwork for visas, divorces and adoptions.Luis Zavalos runs the Avon office. People don’t make appointments, they just stop in, perhaps as many as 10 new people every week. Zavalos, who’s fluent in both English and Spanish, helps those people solve the problems they face coming to a new country.In the first few days of the new year, Zavalos was able to help a family in a dispute with their landlord and helped another man file a legal complaint against his boss.In the first case, a solution was as simple as figuring out when the tenants received a bill, then asking the landlord to waive his late fees because that bill came late.In the other, Zavalos wasn’t able to bridge the language barrier between employee and boss, so he helped the employee fill out the paperwork to file suit in small claims court. If necessary, Zavalos will go to court to translate for his clients.In emergencies, Catholic Charities will provide money to help with rent or utility bills.The new lawThe Colorado Legislature passed a series of laws aimed at illegal immigrants in a special session last summer. One forbids giving any government money to people who can’t prove they’re legal residents of the United States.
That prohibition applies to counties, which are agencies of the state, and Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu said that new law doesn’t allow public money to be used to help illegal immigrants, even through a third party such as Catholic Charities.Tom Ziemann, director of Catholic Charities in Eagle and Garfield counties, said he doesn’t think the law applies to his group, since it gives out little, if any money directly to immigrants. Colorado Attorney General John Suthers believes otherwise. In a legal opinion forwarded to the state’s counties last fall, Suthers wrote that nonprofit groups have to ask about the immigration status of virtually everyone who gets help in order to receive public money. Catholic Charities wasn’t willing to do that.”There’s an ancient Christian understanding of helping those who are vulnerable,” Ziemann said. “Historically, immigrants are among those people.”Ziemann said there’s no test for anyone who asks for help.”People don’t have to be Catholics,” he said. “And if it was Indonesians who were the majority of the immigrants, we’d be hiring a person to help them.”The need to not askZiemann said he’s not upset with the county’s decision and that officials there are just trying to follow the law. The don’t ask policy remains, though, and sometimes the policy is essential, Zavala said.”Since we’re associated with the church, most people trust us,” Zavala said. That often isn’t the case with government agencies, he said.”A lot of people don’t want to deal with the government, or don’t know how,” he said.Ziemann said the new state laws are evidence of failure of a different kind.
“There’s been a failure by the federal government to enact laws to control immigration,” Ziemann said. “This is a bad law forcing the hand of local government.”While the law is the law, Catholic Charities’ most immediate problem is covering a $25,000 hole in the 2007 budget.To do that, Ziemann is asking for help.”I’m sure there are a lot of people applauding (the state law),” Ziemann said. “But some people out there know this community has a vested interest in what we do.”To that end, Ziemann said he’s looking for help from local businesses.”I hope some of them might be willing to partner with us,” he said.”There aren’t many foundations that like to fund these programs because it’s so political,” Ziemann added. “Many businesses benefit from immigrant workers. We’re hoping they’ll recognize this is the right thing to do.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or firstname.lastname@example.org.What’s the law?State law requires people to prove “lawful presence” in the United States in order to get government services including:• Medicaid
• Food stamps• Help with utility bills• Social Security• Welfare paymentsThe exceptionsState law does allow local governments to spend money on programs “necessary for the protection of life and safety” regardless of a person’s immigration status. Those programs include:• Emergency medical care• Non-cash disaster relief• Child support enforcement• Immunizations• Child welfare services• Early Head Start
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