Catholic Charities' immigration services interrupted in the Lehigh Valley
- A recent resignation at the Diocese of Allentown’s Catholic Charities caused a change in services
- Catholic Charities is referring new cases to an organization in Philadelphia
- The organization plans to bring back services, but a spokesman cautioned it will “take some time to rebuild” the immigration program
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — One of the top service providers for the Lehigh Valley’s large immigrant population can no longer offer those services and is sending new cases to Philadelphia.
An employee who managed immigration-related work for the Diocese of Allentown’s Catholic Charities resigned last month, spokesman Matthew Kirby said.
While Catholic Charities works to fill the position and restore the program, Kirby said, the nonprofit is referring new cases to Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Services, about a 90-minute drive from downtown Allentown.
Andrea Kochan Neagle, who serves as managing director of Allentown’s Catholic Charities, is handling the nonprofit’s existing cases, he said.
Lehigh Valley-based clients must get a referral from Allentown Catholic Charities before receiving services from the Philadelphia provider, Kirby said.
Program will ‘take some time to rebuild’
Catholic Charities is “actively recruiting for an immigration case manager now,” Kirby said. But the program “is going to take some time to rebuild,” as it must get specialized training through the U.S. Justice Department, he said.
The organization first started providing immigration-related services in the 1970s after refugees from Vietnam moved to the region, Kirby said.
Many turn to service providers because the U.S. immigration system is “notoriously complex,” though some “choose to navigate it independently."Jody Lantz, executive director of Thrive International Programs
Until last month, the program provided services to “immigrants for whom there is a legal pathway” to stay in the United States, he said.
Those services included consultations and status adjustments, as well as obtaining employment authorization and travel documentation.
Case managers also represented clients during interviews with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agents.
The case manager who left the role in August was the last immigration-services provider on Catholic Charities’ staff after several others left in recent years amid the pandemic, Kirby said.
That last Catholic Charities case manager provided immigration services to 124 clients in 2022 and 101 clients during the first three quarters of this year, he said.
More than 70,000 people in Lehigh and Northampton counties were born outside the United States, according to the most recent census data.
Catholic Charities spent about $85,000 on its immigration program in 2022, just over 1% of its total expenses that year, according to its annual report. That spending was significantly less than in the previous two years.
The nonprofit also ran a refugee program until about a decade ago. That program, which shuttered because of a lack of funding and volunteers, struggled to find employment opportunities for refugees, Kirby said.
Catholic Charities has locations in Lehigh, Berks, Carbon and Schuylkill counties. Its Lehigh Valley operations are based at 402 W. Chew St., Allentown, while it also runs a community center and soup kitchen at 179 W. Chew St.
“Within the legal community, there is a concern about ‘notarios’ and others who give immigration legal advice, but don't have the background, knowledge or skills to provide this kind of help. They put people's immigration status in danger.”Jody Lantz, executive director of Thrive International Programs
The organization says it served more than 42,000 meals at its soup kitchens and helped more than 13,000 clients last year through its many programs, which include case management, counseling, and parenting and pregnancy support services.
‘Notoriously complex’ system
The City of Allentown website has an Immigration Resources page that features a 116-page “Guide for New Immigrants” produced in five languages by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as well as links to national organizations.
But it includes no information for local immigration-services providers.
Online searches for immigration services in the Lehigh Valley now point people to just a few private law firms — Norris McLaughlin in Allentown, Lehigh Immigration in Bethlehem and Diaspora Law, a national firm with an Allentown location.
Thrive International Programs, based in Williamsport, Lycoming County, also offers immigration services to “low-income and vulnerable community members” in the Lehigh Valley, according to its website.
Thrive works to “help people seek and gain stable immigration status to be able to work, support their families, have peace of mind, be reunited and stay with their families,” Executive Director Jody Lantz said.
Many turn to service providers because the U.S. immigration system is “notoriously complex,” though some “choose to navigate it independently,” she said.
Nonprofits such as Thrive and Catholic Charities often “have significantly lower prices” than private attorneys, which makes immigration services “accessible to larger numbers of people in the community,” Lantz said.
She urged Lehigh Valley residents who are seeking immigration services to make sure they are working with representatives who are accredited by the Department of Justice to provide those services.
“Within the legal community, there is a concern about ‘notarios’ and others who give immigration legal advice, but don't have the background, knowledge or skills to provide this kind of help,” Lantz said.
“They put people's immigration status in danger.”
Lantz encouraged residents seeking help to call Thrive at 570-478-0081 or email email@example.com.