Mary Ryan-Hotchkiss – Portland Chapter
On our annual road trip, I met briefly with Heidi Cerneka, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner, in El Paso.
Heidi said she was inspired to join the Lay Missioners while she was still in college and heard about the church women being martyred in El Salvador. Rather than being frightened, their dedication excited her. As a Lay Missioner, Heidi worked many years in Brazil with women in prisons, but at 50 years of age she decided to go to law school. Now she works for a nonprofit, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, as an immigration lawyer. Most of her work involves asylum cases. In this part of Texas only about 3% of asylum applicants are successful. She said that in other jurisdictions, e.g., parts of New York or Portland, Oregon, about 50% of asylum applicants are eventually granted asylum.
The Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy center needs volunteers and interns. Besides the obvious need for workers with legal expertise, Heidi specifically mentioned that social workers or counselors could interview clients. The organization’s website—Las-Americas.org—includes two pages requesting interns and volunteers and listing needs.
I asked Heidi her message for Affiliates. She emphasized, “Walls and detention centers are not the answer. Central America needs to be a place where people can stay if they want, with job opportunities, fair wages, and security. The US needs to be a place where people can come with fair immigration policies. … All the people that leave the government’s detention centers are now documented; they’re not undocumented or illegal!”