Legal aid for immigration non-profit opening | News

Betty Q. Hixson

GOSHEN — A nonprofit legal aid is opening between Goshen and Elkhart.

“La Posada,” which translates to “the inn,” or “shelter,” in Spanish, is rooted in the Anabaptist Mennonite belief from Matthew 25:35 that Christians should welcome newcomers and immigrants.

“When you go to a new city you just feel out of place,” said La Posada founder Naun Cerrato. “Remember when Mary and Joseph were looking for a place to stay but they didn’t have anywhere to stay. Every door was closed because they were foreign to that city. When Mary and Joseph were looking for a hotel, no one welcomed them, so they had to sleep with the animals.”

La Posada will provide immigration resources to Elkhart County communities through written materials, legal counsel, and referrals in a faith-based context that is experienced as welcoming and safe and focused on serving our vulnerable neighbors.

“Using this Biblical approach, if you say you are Christian, you definitely need to have a clear understanding of what the stranger means and how do we welcome, whether you come from Australian, Canada, England how do we welcome them?” Cerrato said. “How do we tell them that the U.S. has certain laws that you’re required — procedures, compliance and certain steps? La Posada is there to answer those questions.”

Cerrato added that just because the organization is founded on religion, doesn’t mean their clients have to follow the same religious tenets.

“Our value was based on religious principles,” he said. “We are not saying you have to be this particular religion — we welcome everyone, no matter who you are. We are not here to evangelize people. We are here to provide immigration services.”

La Posada does not intend to replace traditional legal services.

“We’re not here to be the light of the universe,” he said. “We’re just here to help, a little, other people that are already doing the same thing.”

The income-based nonprofit, however, does want to make an impact in the community by ensuring that, if nothing else, people know what steps to take.

“Immigration laws are very complex and we, at La Posada, want to make sure that we are not here just to exploit immigrants,” Cerrato said. “It’s not about how much you can pay. It’s about how we can help you to understand this complexity of immigration law.”

The board of directors, comprised of lawyers and pastors from many backgrounds and nationalities, is already in place, but La Posada can’t open officially until they hire an office manager and an immigration attorney.

“If we have an attorney today, we can open tomorrow,” Cerrato said, adding that they’re hoping to open by the beginning of April.

The intention is to be open from 10 a.m. 6 p.m., although availability of the staff will determine opening hours.

“La Posada is not here to change the law,” he said. “La Posada is not here to create new laws. La Posada is actually here to respect the law by asking, ‘How do we help newcomers to meet the law?’ That’s why we’re here. It is our goal and our mission that when you come to our door, you will not feel rejected. You will feel welcomed.

“We are not asking how much money you make, or why you’re here — no, no, not at all. When you come to these doors, we want to make sure we answer your questions about immigration. We want to be sure that you are pleased with the service. Our staff will not be based in how much money they can make.”

La Posada, located inside the Sunnyside Mennonite Church, will have two rooms, one for the office manager or receptionist, and another for the immigration lawyer. Rooms also have spaces for children of clients.

“The Scriptures say that we should welcome the stranger,” Cerrato said. “We obey the Word of God and Jesus Christ by welcoming the stranger and providing hospitality.”

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