By Jessica Griggs for Mennonite Church USA
ELKHART, Indiana (Mennonite Church USA) — After more than two years of preparation, La Posada Immigrant Aid, a new faith-based immigrant legal aid center located in Sunnyside Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Indiana, is open for business, largely due to the support and collaboration of several Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) affiliated churches, conferences, schools, organizations and individuals.
Naun Cerrato, founder and co-pastor of Piedra Viva Mennonite Church — which also shares space with Sunnyside Mennonite Church — and an immigrant himself, noticed that Elkhart County, Indiana, had a need for low-cost immigrant legal services. Cerrato reached out to other Mennonite congregations in Elkhart County for support, and in 2020, the board for La Posada was formed, with Cerrato as the board chair.
Over the next two years, the board worked to obtain funding, non-profit status and proper accreditation, as well as find a physical location to hold the La Posada offices. Because of Cerrato’s relationship with Sunnyside Mennonite Church, the church offered to permanently allow La Posada to use two church classrooms as legal offices.
“In 2019, Sunnyside was working on a new mission and vision statement. And one of the points in these statements was that we wanted our building to be used more by the community,” said Peter Graber, La Posada treasurer and the board member representing Sunnyside Mennonite Church. “We’re very happy that La Posada can make good use of the facility.”
The board also hired Irma Ramirez, a first-generation Mexican-American and law-school graduate, as the executive director.
Ramirez said, “There is a great need for immigration services in the Elkhart/Goshen area. We have many well-established organizations in the area, but even with those organizations in place, there is a large demand for services, and it continues to increase. We will work in unison with our community partners to serve our vulnerable neighbors. Knowing that we will be helping and making a difference in the lives of many brings me hope!”
In February, La Posada received accreditation from the U.S. Department of Justice to act as legal representatives in immigration cases. The organization’s reach is still limited for the time being, though, as they continue to search for an attorney, and office manager, to join the staff.
Cerrato said, “There’s a lot of heavy accountability and responsibility riding on us, because many Mennonite churches are putting their trust in us. The Department of Justice of the United States is putting its trust in us. The local community is putting their trust in us. So we have to be careful to do everything right.”
To celebrate the ability to take on clients, Ramirez, Cerrato and the rest of La Posada’s board hosted an open house at Sunnyside Mennonite Church March 25. Approximately 75 community members attended the event, including Rod Roberson, the mayor of the city of Elkhart; David Boshart, the president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS); and Brenda Toews, the chair of Sunnyside Mennonite Church’s board.
During her speech at the open house, Ramirez said, “One of my main goals is to build and gain the trust of the community. Immigration law can be complex. Many immigrants fear applying for relief, because they fear deportation. Research validates this fear. Immigrants who appear alone in court stand little chance of navigating the complex arena of immigration law. This is why La Posada was created. We will walk with the immigrant community.”
La Posada means “shelter” or “inn” in Spanish. The name was inspired by Luke 2:7, in which Mary and Joseph were unable to find suitable shelter for the birth of Jesus, because there was no room in the inn. Cerrato said that La Posada was created as place of sanctuary for the Elkhart County immigrant community by providing shelter through legal aid.
La Posada welcomes immigrants of all nationalities and offers a large number of immigration services, including naturalization, family-based immigration petitions and applications, special immigrant juvenile status, adjustment of status applications, work authorizations, green card renewal applications and waivers, as well as citizenship classes. Pricing is offered on a sliding scale that takes into consideration the client’s income, as well as which services they need. Because of this, the board expects that only about 50% of the organization’s financial needs will be met through client fees; the rest will need to be raised through grants and donations.
Ramirez emphasized the board’s role in leading La Posada, saying, “The board of directors deserve recognition for building a strong foundation before entrusting me to lead the organization.”
Because La Posada is the vision of Elkhart County Mennonites, the board of directors is comprised of representatives from several Elkhart County Mennonite congregations from both Central District Conference and Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA, as well as a representative from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and a local attorney. MC USA churches represented on the board include Hively Avenue Mennonite Church, North Goshen Mennonite Church, Piedra Viva Mennonite Church, Prairie Street Mennonite Church and Sunnyside Mennonite Church. The vast majority of La Posada’s financial support has come from these churches, along with Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship, College Mennonite Church, Eighth Street Mennonite Church, Fellowship of Hope, Hudson Lake Mennonite Church, MCC Great Lakes, MCC U.S., The Schowalter Foundation, Silverwood Mennonite Church, Walnut Hill Mennonite Church, Waterford Mennonite Church and several individuals, all of which are associated with MC USA. AMBS, Goshen College and Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference also donated furniture and equipment to help furnish La Posada’s offices.
Graber said “La Posada is a project of the Mennonite churches of Elkhart County — the board members, the volunteers, the financial support — that’s where it’s all coming from.”
As La Posada begins to take on clients, they request prayers concerning:
- Finding additional staff who will make a good fit, so they can build the organization and live into their mission more fully.
- The smooth implementation of new systems for serving clients.
- Raising additional financial support from individuals, churches and other organizations.
- Wisdom for the board, as they continue to discern how best to provide immigrants in Elkhart County with legal aid.
La Posada Immigrant Aid provides immigration legal assistance to immigrant families in Elkhart County, Indiana. It was formed in December 2020, out of Anabaptist faith values and began seeing clients in March 2023. Its offices are located in the Sunnyside Mennonite Church building, and it is supported by 10-20 local Mennonite churches, along with individuals, foundations and client fees. La Posada plans to have three employees by the end of 2023 and to be able to serve up to 40 clients per month.
Mennonite Church USA is the largest Mennonite denomination in the United States with 16 conferences, approximately 540 congregations and 56,000 members. An Anabaptist Christian denomination, MC USA is part of Mennonite World Conference, a global faith family that includes churches in 59 countries. It has offices in Elkhart, Indiana and Newton, Kansas. mennoniteUSA.org