Diocese offers workshops for Hispanics to learn about life in the U.S.

GEORGETOWN — Putting a friendly face on immigration law, attorney Glenda Bunce of Catholic Charities was the featured speaker at an educational workshop for Hispanics.

The workshop, one of a series being held across the state, was funded by a grant from the Sisters of Charity. The Diocese of Charleston is presenting  the series, called “Exito para Nuestra Gente, Talleres que Ensenan e Inspiran” (“Success for Our People, Workshops that Teach and Inspire”).

This first workshop was held May 16 at St. Cyprian Church and Outreach Center. It began with lunch, followed by Bunce’s presentation and other sessions on banking and consumer rights.

About 75 workshop participants heard the presentations in Spanish and were able to ask questions of the presenters and get immediate responses in Spanish.

Bunce talked about work permits, temporary visas and bringing family members to the United States. It’s important to have and keep papers on citizenship, schooling, medical records and green cards, she said.

President George Bush announced at a conference that there would be changes in the immigration laws, Bunce said, but they haven’t been enacted by Congress yet. He did authorize temporary or guest worker permits, she said.

Lydia Brainard of Carolina First Bank and Carlos Vargas of the Wachovia Bank in Georgetown talked about how banks work. Brainard explained that banks help people keep their money secure, allow account holders to write checks and use credit cards, and offer loans for homes, cars and trucks, and other purposes. With direct deposit of a payroll check, she said, the money is secure in the bank and the account holder can write checks. She added that banks are insured through the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation).

Vargas related that his bank and many others in the United States work similarly to Carolina First. He stressed the importance of having a Social Security or individual Taxpayer Identification Number. He also made sure to point out to the participants that a debit or check card does take money from a checking account when it’s used at places like grocery stores, gas stations, banks and other places.

One participant asked about getting help for credit problems. Maria Smoak, moderator for the afternoon, responded that the United Way has people who  will help with credit counseling.

Betzy Morales of the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission and Ray Mejia of Rapid Tax Service, both in Columbia, talked about discrimination and consumer rights. Morales made it plain to the participants that discrimination based on age, sex, race, color or religion is not allowed. People who believe they are discriminated against may call (800) 521-0725 for help. Smoak added that it’s important to realize we are not just one person. Together, she said, we are the voice of the people.

Mejia stressed that it’s important to pay taxes. He said he realizes some employers will pay their workers “under the table,” but that’s not a good thing. Not only does the law require that we pay taxes, he said, but it’s the right thing to do. If we get benefits such as healthcare and education for our children, we should be willing to pay our taxes. Consumers have rights, and often records of paying taxes and filing returns can help prevent problems or correct them if they occur.

“We as consumers have a responsibility to educate ourselves and help ourselves and others,” Smoak said. “Many agencies can help, but we have a responsibility to help ourselves.”

Mejia added that the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t share information about taxes with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Each participant received a certificate of attendance. Elva Horlings, a parishioner at Precious Blood of Christ Church on Pawleys Island, said the people who came to the workshop got a lot of very good information that they needed to have.

For more information
Contact project coordinator
Maria Smoak at (803) 779-0942.

Tommy Howard is a reporter for the Georgetown Times, a member of St. Mary, Our Lady of Ransom, and on the Secretariat for Cursillo.