John Herrera, director of Catholic Charities’ Immigration Legal Services, is pictured with Astrid Mendoza after she secured a green card. (Courtesy Catholic Charities)
John Herrera, director of Catholic Charities’ Immigration Legal Services, is pictured with Astrid Mendoza after she secured a green card. (Courtesy Catholic Charities)
For new immigrants, an affordable lawyer who speaks their language is a kind of “divine gift,” says the director of Immigration Legal Services for Catholic Charities of Oregon.

“Being an immigrant always brings many challenges, including language and culture and leaving loved ones and friends behind. Finding an organization such as Catholic Charities providing immigration legal services is a blessing,” John Herrera said in a Spanish-language interview with El Centinela.

Herrera said Catholic Charities follows the teachings of Jesus to welcome the stranger and give aid to those in need.

One focus of Immigration Legal Services is continual education on the ever-changing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has gone in and out of favor. The program allows children brought to the United States without authorization to remain if they fulfill certain requirements. Catholic Charities has been holding workshops at parishes to let immigrants know the latest.

“Education and information to the community are fundamental,” Herrera said.

As it stands, immigrants who already have DACA status can apply for renewal but the government is taking no new DACA applications at present. The program has been a bargaining chip in negotiations between President Trump and congressional Democrats when it comes to building a barrier at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Oregon has about 10,000 DACA beneficiaries.

Herrera said his department stands ready to offer general “Know Your Rights” workshops for immigrants in Oregon parishes. He urged Catholics to ask their pastors to schedule a session.

Every week, Herrera’s office received many calls for help from immigrants involved in legal scuffles.

“The immigrant community feels fear and uncertainty because the current immigration policy is not the best and has created a climate of animosity against immigrants,” Herrera said. “Our community has always resisted certain changes in immigration policy and we continue to contribute to the greatness of this country. The most important thing is not to lose faith and keep fighting every day to be better and to comply with the laws and rules of the country.”

He urges immigrants to work their way toward citizenship so they can vote for the interests of their peers.

— Rocío Rios