CSS takes proactive role in informing area immigrants on recent reforms 

By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor

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FALL RIVER, Mass. — On November 20, President Barack Obama decreed a presidential executive order granting “deferred action” to a pair of illegal immigrant groups: the parents of citizens of the U.S., or legal permanent residents who have been in the country for five years and young people who were illegally brought into this country since 2010.

The order evoked a range of emotions and opinions, but also left many area immigrants confused and concerned about their status in the wake of the reform.

The Fall River Diocese’s Catholic Social Services Office has taken a proactive response to the executive order, and is currently presenting workshops throughout the diocese to help quell some of the concerns and confusion, as well as to prepare qualified immigrants for the steps they need to take in the near future.

CSS’s Immigration Legal Advocacy and Education Project is coordinating the information sessions. Managing attorney for ILEAP, Schuyler Pisha, told The Anchor, “We’ve done this in the past with other government announcements. This executive order will affect thousands of area people, and it’s impossible to handle the questions one-by-one on the telephone when individuals call. There is a lot of interest out there, and a lot of information to give, and we feel this is the most effective way of getting the word out.” 

Pisha also said that the president’s immigration announcement will require some to pay back taxes. “It appears that someone, or more likely a group of people, are using this as an opportunity for a phone scam,” he said. “A client called us from an ATM, after a man, claiming to be an IRS agent, called and threatened to deport him if he didn’t make a money transfer to cover his back taxes.

“When we reported this to the Barnstable Police, they said that they had received many similar reports. The IRS website also offers advice for those exposed to this scam which appears to be widespread: ‘The IRS will never: 1) call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill; 2) demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe; 3) require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card; 4) ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone; or 5) threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.’”

Pisha advised those who experience such a scam attempt to contact their local police department.

ILEAP has hosted a number information sessions within the last month: at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and the Community Economic Development Center in New Bedford; at the CSS office in Fall River; at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Attleboro; and at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Hyannis. “All of the sessions have been well-attended,” added Pisha. “The Hyannis workshop drew nearly 200 people and the Our Lady of Guadalupe workshop drew 150 people.” 

The sessions, led by Pisha, Rita Resende of the UMass Dartmouth Immigration Law Clinic, and CSS attorney Timmothy Paicopolos, address five major concerns: who qualifies for the program; how will the program help qualified individuals; how can people apply; when can people apply; and is it safe to apply.

“People should know that they can’t apply yet; that will most likely happen in February or May,” said Pisha. “And there are many documents they will need to collect to be part of the application process. All this information is provided at the sessions. This will be a long process for some people.”

Pisha also told The Anchor that ILEAP will be prioritizing who they will assist once the application process begins. “There are some who can’t afford legal help, and we never turn anyone away because of an inability to pay,” he said. “Depending on the income of the individual, there are various nominal fees, and some are not eligible at all if they can afford it.”

Pisha said that upcoming sessions will take place at various diocesan locations, including Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, New Bedford, Fall River, and Hyannis.

Two sessions scheduled for the coming weeks are this Sunday at St. Mary’s-Our Lady of the Isle Parish, 3 Federal Street on Nantucket at 7:45 p.m.; and January 21 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, 230 Bonney Street in New Bedford at 6 p.m.

The mission of the ILEAP staff has taken to heart the plea of Pope Francis and Fall River Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha to assist the immigrants. In a recent Anchor interview, Bishop da Cunha reminded local faithful: “We must remember that these are human beings, our brothers and sisters, and they deserve dignity. It’s the mission of a Christian to help those who are in this country, but also to work to help those in other countries improve their quality of life so they have no need to leave their homelands.”

For more information about the ILEAP workshops, send an email to spisha@cssdioc.org, or call 508-674-4681.

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