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M.L. Schultze digs deeply into stories which help us to give you a better understanding of serious social issues and the greater impacts they have.

Volunteers Work to Replace Fear with Faith Among Ohio's Immigrants

photo of swearing-in ceremony
A group of 52 immigrants were sworn-in as U.S. citizens at this year's Constitution Day celebration at the Akron-Summit County Public Library.

Immigrants are increasingly the targets of money-making scams. However there are a growing number of grassroots efforts to provide them with the information and tools to avoid these scams.

In the second of two stories on threats against Ohio’s immigrants, we look at local efforts to keep them from becoming victims.

You don’t need GPS to figure out which west Akron house belongs to John Beaty.

“I’m a bumper sticker Christian,” According to Beaty. 

photo of John and Linda Beaty
John and Linda Beaty stand in their front yard.

The 80-year-old retired Methodist minister and his wife, Linda,  wear their sentiments on bumper stickers -- and wall art, window stickers and yard signs: “Love thy neighbor (no exceptions)” and “Hate has no home here” -- in a half-dozen languages.

They’re also among the founders of the Akron Interfaith Immigration Advocates.  

“Whether you are Muslim, Jewish or Christian or Hindu or other religions, we all have a common bond of concern for human beings.” 

A network of volunteers
In all, about a hundred people volunteer with the Akron interfaith group. They make repeated trips these days to immigration courts and detention facilities as far away as Detroit. Sometimes they deliver bond money; sometimes they bring individuals to their hearings; sometimes they bring whole families -- for what could end in a farewell.

Without the volunteers help, the immigrants would have to rely on private transportation. And that often means an opportunist with a junker who charges as much as $300 for the less than one hour trip to Cleveland for immigration proceedings. A Tuscarawas County woman was facing a cost of $1,300 to get to the Guatemalan embassy in Chicago to pick up documents.

But Linda Beaty says the interfaith advocates do more than save immigrant families money many don’t have. When it comes to immigration court, "We find that the judge feels better when they know that there is a community built in for them, and we don’t drop our people. They become part of us,” Linda Beaty said. 

Which means Christmas parties, summer picnics, childbirth celebrations as well as help with food, getting kids to school and help with legal advice and medical care. Perhaps most importantly, John Beaty says, they connect immigrants to a network of friends and resources. “There is a lot of manipulation of vulnerable immigrants. But there is a lot of help for vulnerable immigrants by other immigrants.”

Northeast Ohio efforts
There are other support groups throughout Northeast Ohio, including Cleveland Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services, the statewide Immigrant Worker Project based in Canton, the International Institute of Akron, and the University of Akron immigration clinic, which specializes in asylum cases.

Some have staff. All rely on volunteers. And many have taken on the task of helping immigrants recognize scams because the cons are so pervasive, they literally walk in the door while immigrants are working on other issues.

One example is a young man who came into a Canton center to renew his work permit. As he was sitting there, a text-message phishing for his Social Security number popped up. His face, which had tightened, relaxed after he showed it to the lawyer across the desk, who told him to ignore it.  

The most common scams include phony IRS warnings of arrest and deportation, bogus immigration paperwork, falsified tax forms, and exorbitant fees for things like standardized immigration forms and free vaccinations.

photo of Pastor Hery Salamanca
Pastor Hery Salamanca

A go-to guy
Hery Salamanca is a Church of God pastor in the Columbiana County town of Salem and the guy many of the Guatemalans living here call when they’re approached.

His advice is familiar in any language. “If something sounds weird, just stop. Don’t send money to anybody. Go to the Catholic Church or contact me, and we’ll take care of it.”

Because he’s an interpreter for the Salem police department and courts, he’s especially effective when the scams include threats of arrests.

But Salamanca says scammers are adept at ferreting out fresh fears. And some show a specialized understanding of the community he works with.

“I have families asking me to take them right away to send money. I say, ‘OK, I will help you, but why? Why we need to send money?’ They (scammers) sent them pictures of the Santa Muerte saying if you don’t send the money to me right now, we’re going to do witchcraft on you.”

The goal
Whether it’s Pastor Salamanca in Salem, or John and Linda Beaty in Akron, or hundreds of other volunteers -- their goal is to replace fear with faith that life will get better and that the community around them cares for its immigrants.

Watching out for scams and scammers
This website http://saveimmigrantfamiliesusa.com/ offers free documents, information on scams, know-your-rights clinics, updates on laws and other information for immigrant families in Ohio.

Here’s a link to more on scams aimed at immigrants: https://www.consumer.gov/content/resources-help-immigrant-communities


M.L. Schultze is a freelance journalist. She spent 25 years at The Repository in Canton where she was managing editor for nearly a decade, then served as WKSU's news director and digital editor until her retirement.