Diocesan employees earn immigration certification

Offering legal aid to immigrants is a growing service provided by the diocesan Office of Social Ministry.

Recently, two employees in the immigration offices earned their Board of Immigration Appeals certification, which allows them to do even more for those in need.

Blenda Suarez, from the Berea office in Greenville, and Mily Choy from Hilton Head, are both thrilled with their new status.

Having the certification allows the immigration specialists to offer legal representation to immigrants and represent clients in front of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said Emily Guerrero, diocesan immigration services supervisor. Only people working for non-profits qualify for BIA status, she said, which allows non-attorneys to practice a certain level of immigration law.

For example, they help legal, permanent residents apply for green cards or citizenship for their family members. They also help victims of certain crimes find asylum, and aid those who have been victims of trafficking.

Before, Guerrero would have to review and sign all documents. Now, Suarez and Choy have authority to sign.

“It gives them a lot more independence to represent clients,” Guerrero said. “They’re both really excited and proud that they can practice immigration on their own now.”

Choy moved to the United States six years ago, she said. She earned her law degree in her homecountry of Lima, Peru, and worked for an international organization protecting human rights and democracy.

Suarez said she worked in mortgage before, but was offered the opportunity to move into immigration services in 2012. She is thrilled with the transfer and the opportunity to help people.

Andrea Penafiel, an immigration specialist in the Mount Pleasant office, received her BIA certification in 2010 and is in the process of renewing it.

Currently, there are immigration offices in Greenville, Charleston and Hilton Head, which just welcomed Alyson Beinert as its new immigration attorney.

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