Forty years of trustworthy guidance: Catholic Charities' Immigration Service Department celebrates 40th anniversary
FORT WORTH- In the early years of Catholic Charities Fort Worth’s Immigration Services, one employee, working from All Saints Parish in Fort Worth, served about 400 clients each year.
As Immigration Services approaches its 40th anniversary this December, the program now serves about 4,000 clients a year with the help of an immigration attorney, administrative assistant, and six Department of Justice accredited immigration representatives.
That adds up to more than 72,000 cases opened since 1983 to help clients negotiate the complex journey through U.S. immigration paperwork.
CCFW Immigration Services Director Xergio Chacin said team members have developed specific skills that are “laser-focused” for immigration work. They also have worked through the process for themselves or a family member.
“There is no one on the staff that hasn’t been, at some level, personally involved in the process,” Chacin said, “and that gives us a tremendous level of empathy and understanding.”
Though the number of immigrants and their countries of origin varies from year to year, the program served 4,400 clients from 64 different countries in 2022. Refugees accounted for 569 of those clients.
“We have never served only one nationality,” Chacin said. “But, due to our location in Texas, the largest number of immigrants are from Mexico, and they make up more than the other 63 countries combined.”
Chacin said the process itself presents a challenge: “A system to legally immigrate to the U.S. exists, but it’s not always functional,” he said. “And the time frame for the process is years — sometimes decades or more.”
Immigrants often hear “get in line and come into the U.S. the right way,” he added. “But there’s not one line and all the lines that exist are not moving.”
For example, Chacin said his team currently serves many clients who first petitioned for a green card in the early 2000s, with some from the mid-to-late ʼ90s. In addition to the complexity and glacial pace of the system, Chacin noted yet another challenge: the process is still paper-based “both in how you apply, and how the government communicates with you.”
“That’s why our [administrative assistants] have such an important role,” Chacin continued. “Their job is to make sure the mass of mail keeps moving as it should.”
Despite the team’s expertise and dedication, some clients hear “that’s not possible,” because CCFW Immigration Services only provides what the law allows, no more and no less. Though immigration work is intense and repetitive, Immigration Services has little turnover because team members “understand what it takes and how it feels,” Chacin noted, adding that his motivator is faith.
“I think, ‘What if this was the Lord’s paperwork? If I were filling out the Lord Jesus’ application, I’m going to try to do my best and not cut corners,’” he explained.