Catholic Charities serves influx of Cuban immigrants

Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Migration and Refugee Services program has doubled the number of orientation sessions for newcomers based on an increased number of Cuban immigrants coming into the city. (Record Photo by Kayla Bennett)

So many Cuban immigrants came to the Derby City last year, the population of Louisville has grown by one percent since the 2021 census.

Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Migration and Refugee Services director Colin Triplett said that such an influx is uncommon, but pointing to any one cause for the change is difficult. He credits the state of affairs in Cuba — lingering pandemic effects, a crumbling economy and a repressive government — with increased migration.

Migration and Refugee Services is equipped to meet the needs of the city’s immigrants — however many there are, he said.

Triplett noted that people come to the United States for a variety of reasons, which determine the immigration status they’re assigned. The terminology can get a bit complicated.

  • Immigrants are those who are on the move and intend to relocate to a different country. 
  • Refugees fled their home country, resided in a second location and were referred to the U.S. with the intention of living here permanently. 
  • Parolees are given permission to enter the U.S. while they figure out a permanent solution. 
  • Asylum seekers or asylees come to the U.S. on their own out of fear of persecution in their home country. 

Statuses and titles for the latest Cuban immigrants are tricky but important because they determine what kind of assistance resettlement agencies can provide, said Triplett. Recent policy changes often mean they qualify for cash assistance but not work authorization, and what used to be a months-long process to self-sufficiency is now taking more than a year, he said.

Migration and Refugee Services offers orientation sessions for newcomers to explain the services and benefits they can expect to receive as well as learn about what is expected of them. The program has started offering double the number of sessions in recent months to cover the increase in immigrants.

Shaki Palacios, the Cuban-Haitian services coordinator for Catholic Charities, said, “We’ve had to change a lot of the wording and the way we give people information, obviously, because back in the day — and that sounds like a long time ago, but like, just last year — there used to be a very set orientation for clients of like, ‘This is the services we have, this is what you’re getting,’ ” but that’s not the case anymore, she said.

“Processes have changed so much over the past year, and the documents they’re coming in with has divided that same population so much. So now it’s become a thing that you can’t even explain in the general sense,” she said.

Triplett said it’s “no secret that our immigration system is broken” and given the lack of qualified immigration lawyers, the community doesn’t have the capacity to fully address the need.

“I think that it is sometimes simple to say, ‘Oh, if they’ve been admitted legally, then they can have a path to permanence,’ and that’s just not how things are happening right now,” he said. “The best practitioner that I know of in immigration legal services works for Catholic Charities. And they just need really big-time support. Because it really serves the community, the most vulnerable in the community.”

Migration and Refugee Services has worked to provide that support, and in turn, has fostered a sense of trust with the Cuban community in the program, Triplett and Palacios said.

“We have people from the Cuban community that work here, we have a lot of Spanish speakers here, we have our finger on the pulse of this complicated system,” Triplett said. “We know first when something new is happening. … we provide that consistency and that kind of space where we’re going to explain things in a considerate way, but we’re going to explain things truthfully and let people know” what’s going on and what to expect.

Palacios echoed his sentiment.

“We do tell our clients that we are undergoing a humanitarian crisis and the more honest with our clients and the more consistent we are … we find that we’re building such a trusting relationship with them,” she said.

Beyond immigration services, the program provides Cuban immigrants with household goods such as toiletries and clothes. The program does not find housing for them, but does help those with other immigration statuses — such as refugees — find somewhere to live.

Triplett said the program needs interpreters. And those who volunteer with the agency, even if they don’t work with Cuban immigrants, enable the program to provide all clients with more assistance. Additionally, donations made to Catholic Charities are always appreciated.

“We’re always looking for people to sign up as contract interpreters,” Triplett said, referring to ways people can get involved. “Or they can go to our donation page, we have volunteer opportunities. The more that we can kind of relieve other parts of the job, we can concentrate more on the Cubans.”

To learn more about donating to Catholic Charities of Louisville, visit https://cclou.org/give-back/. For volunteer opportunities, visit https://cclou.org/volunteer/.

Kayla Bennett
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Kayla Bennett
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