St. Joseph Community Health Foundation supports the expansion of services for local Afghan refugees

Thanks to a more than $50,000 grant from the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend (CCFWSB) can expand legal services to help Afghan refugees who arrived in Fort Wayne last fall. 

Due to the swift fall of the Afghan government and emergency evacuation, Afghans who fled at that time were not able to be processed through the normal refugee channels. As a result, they are legally considered “parolees” or “evacuees” and are required to apply for permanent residency in the U.S. within strict timelines.  

Per federal regulations, Afghan citizens evacuated in August of 2021 and seeking asylum are required to apply within one year of entry, meaning the individuals being served in this program will need to complete the process no later than August of 2022. Extensions may be available but are not guaranteed. CCFWSB is working with 133 Afghan evacuees in Fort Wayne who will need these legal immigration services, but there are not enough organizations in Fort Wayne that can provide the necessary legal support. 

“Immigration experts across the country are overwhelmed by the number of Afghan cases that need to be processed in such a short amount of time,” says Luz Ostrognai, director of Immigration Services at CCFWSB. “This grant ensures those [Afghans] resettled locally, will have timely and proper legal services for their immigration case.” 

To meet this overwhelming need, CCFWSB will add contract staff who specialize in immigration to aid local Afghan evacuees seeking to file for Asylum, Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), or applying to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

Expanded services will include conducting group orientations, providing individual screenings, consulting on legal pathways to citizenship, aiding in court proceedings, and advising on family reunification options.

During the evacuation in 2021, most of these individuals were forced to leave close family members behind. There is not currently a program that prioritizes family reunification for Afghans, and because Afghanistan no longer has an American Embassy, it will be challenging for family members to be reunited.

CCFWSB is grateful for the support of St. Joseph Community Health Foundation and proud to continue to further its mission to strengthen, improve, and sustain an inclusive community.  

“Our sponsor, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, came to northeast Indiana from Germany in 1868 to help local immigrants. They have continually responded to the call of refugees and immigrants around the world. Today the St. Joe Foundation carries on that mission of supporting immigrants and refugees in our community,” says Meg Distler, executive director of the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation. “We are proud to support Catholic Charities in their efforts to welcome our Afghan neighbors and help them on the path to permanent residency.”