September 24, 2020 // Diocese

World Day of Migrants and Refugees Sept. 27

When pandemic threatened residency, immigrant turned to Catholic Charities

FORT WAYNE – The path to citizenship can be long and tedious, requiring many years of effort: holding a job, securing numerous character references, submitting forms, paying fees and visiting immigration offices in the U.S. and abroad. When all this is interrupted by a pandemic, it can suddenly put a family on the brink of financial ruin.

Israel has lived in the United States for 20 years, the last 15 of which have been in Fort Wayne. During this time, he held a steady full-time job, married Maddison, an American citizen, and become the father of two. Like many in the restaurant business, he was laid off when COVID-19 hit. He was not eligible for unemployment, though, because he is still working on gaining permanent residency. The rules of the stimulus also prevented Israel and Maddison from qualifying for that assistance.

“Those without permanent residency use a tax ID number, instead of a Social Security number,” said Luz Ostrognai, supervisor of immigration services for the diocesan office of Catholic Charities. “That’s where Israel and Maddison fell through the cracks.”

Because Maddison is on maternity leave, Israel had been the main breadwinner. No income meant that essentials like their mortgage and utilities would go unpaid. Threatened with losing their home, Ostrognai was able to make an internal referral to the Catholic Charities Resource and Referral program so the family could receive COVID-19-designated assistance.

“Migrants typically face multiple issues in an economic downturn,” said Gloria Whitcraft, CEO of Catholic Charities. “Fortunately, we have the expertise to help them navigate the bureaucracy and find a solution.”

When the pandemic struck, Catholic Charities spent most of the first couple months securing grants and donations to assist the many individuals, families and small-business owners who needed assistance. With these relief funds in-house, Israel and Maddison were able to stay afloat because Catholic Charities paid their mortgage and utilities.

“Many thanks to everyone who made this [assistance] possible,” said Israel. “It has been a lifesaver.”

Catholic Charities is present in Allen County and surrounding areas and is recognized by the Department of Justice as a provider of these legal services. In cooperation with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities is also the only refugee resettlement agency in northern Indiana. The Board of Immigration Appeals (U.S. Department of Homeland Security) recognizes Catholic Charities’ Immigration Services as a program that provides accurate and affordable services to immigrants who seek to adjust their status, reunite with family members, obtain employment authorization, or file paperwork to make other status adjustments through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, formerly the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Catholic Charities also provides citizenship classes and assistance with the process of naturalization. 

Editor’s note: Luz Ostrognai is fully accredited in immigration services through the U.S. Department of Justice. Clients’ last names are withheld.

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