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City and La Casa de Amistad partnership offers legal support to Afghan refugees

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Jakob Lazzaro
/
WVPE News

The City of South Bend and La Casa de Amistad announced a new partnership Monday to provide legal support to Afghan refugees.

La Casa de Amistad and other social services organizations have worked to resettle about 60 Afghan refugees in the South Bend area over the last several months.

Many have been granted humanitarian parole, an immigration status that allows them to legally live in the United States without a visa. However, parole status expires after two years.

Immigration attorney Barbara Szweda said refugees have to file for asylum or Special Immigrant Visas to receive more permanent residency status — but it’s a long and complicated process.

“Some of them don’t have enough of their paperwork, so that’s a problem. And the other problem is many do not speak English,” she said. “Some of them don’t read or write, and the U.S. is sending any information about this in English.”

The City of South Bend has now committed $100,000 for translation, interpretation and other legal services for Afghan refugees. Half of the funding will come from the redevelopment commission, and half will come from the common council.

“We’re looking to make sure that we successfully have our new neighbors integrate into our community,” South Bend Mayor James Mueller said.

Services will be conducted through La Casa de Amistad.

“Our Afghan parolees that are here in town can go directly through La Casa’s legal clinic in a welcoming space,” executive director Juan Constantino said. “From the beginning all the way to the end, as we get them employee authorization cards, adjustments of status and beyond.”

Szweda said about 16 local attorneys are helping with the refugees’ cases, and more are welcome to volunteer through La Casa de Amistad or partner organizations such as the United Religious Community, Catholic Charities and Neighbor to Neighbor.

Contact Gemma at gdicarlo@wvpe.org or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

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Gemma DiCarlo comes to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.