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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The Sedalia Democrat Online

The Sedalia Democrat Online

Immigration paperwork clinic draws masses

By Beth Fortune
The Sedalia Democrat


A low murmur of English, Russian and Spanish filled the basement of St. Patrick's Church Tuesday as families sought help with immigration applications.

Legal Aid of Western Missouri, based in Kansas City, offered free help with citizenship, work visa and other applications to more than 100 people.

"Immigration is very confusing, very complicated," said Suzanne Gladney, managing attorney of Legal Aid. The application process for even basic forms is "fraught with potholes and pitfalls along the way that people can slip into that can hurt them."

Some of the immigrants waited more than an hour for their turn with someone to review their needs and offer advice.

"It's stacks and stacks of government forms and regulations," said Ms. Gladney. Some forms are deceptively simple -- the application for a work visa is 16 questions, on one page, but the instructions are 10 pages long, Ms. Gladney said.

Glenda Zelaya and her husband, Balthazar Aguilar, came from Marshall so that a lawyer could review Mrs. Zelaya's application for citizenship. She moved from El Salvador to the United States in 1995.

"I wanted to make sure I'm doing the right thing," she said.

Tracy Rubio, a U.S. citizen, came to find out how to begin to apply for citizenship for her husband, Javier, a Mexican.

"I think I would really need some help" for the application, she said.

She probably couldn't afford to hire a local attorney to help her, if she could find one willing, she said.

"Even if you can pay for it, there aren't enough people available to do immigration stuff," said Ms. Gladney.

Immigrants received help with filling out forms from employees of the office of refugee and immigration services of the Jefferson City Diocese.

"As we did refugee resettlement, we found that there were a lot of folks who needed help with immigration applications," said Alice Wolters, director of the office.

The office will follow up with each family, ensuring that they know when to go to Kansas City for interviews or when to file other forms.

Some Ukrainian families, who immigrated as refugees, needed to apply to be permanent residents.

Through the U.S. refugee resettlement program, resettlement agencies, which help refugees when they first move to the country, receive $400 per refugee, said Ms. Wolters.

The Jefferson City Diocese uses the money to rent an apartment, connect utilities, buy food and other basic necessities, Ms. Wolters said. That help is only given to families when they first move to the country -- if they relocate later, they get no extra funds, she said.

bethfortune@sedaliademocrat.com

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