Q&A with Maria-Teresa Shuck
Director, Centro Hispano de Frederick, Inc.
What does your organization do and how long has it existed?
Centro Hispano de Frederick is a nonprofit education and resource center founded in 2006 by a small group concerned about the lack of services and advocacy for the growing immigrant and limited English proficient population. Our mission is to inform, refer and educate, thereby promoting their complete community participation. Services include classes in English, computers, citizenship prep and literacy. Volunteer attorneys assist clients in immigration and legal issues and we assist with MVA and tax queries. We also offer bilingual mediation sessions, translation of documents and notarization. Financial support comes from small church donations, contributions from the clients and a small grant from the City of Frederick to support our computer lab. We are also grateful to our landlord, who leases our office at an extremely reduced price.
What are some successes?
We have clients who have passed the U.S. citizenship test, something that requires much time and effort, not to mention money. Our volunteer attorneys have successfully assisted clients in deportation cases with extenuating circumstances, enabling young immigrants to continue their education through the Dream Act, and guiding immigrants in obtaining residency papers, etc. We’ve obtained funding from the Community Development Block Grant through the city for a computer lab. We work closely with Frederick County Public Schools, Frederick City Police, Frederick Memorial Hospital and others in order to bring our communities together.
What obstacles need to be overcome?
Biggest is the misinformation regarding immigrants and immigration issues— especially surrounding our Latin American residents. First, not all Latinos are undocumented. Being undocumented is not a criminal offense; it is merely a civil offense. Latinos work and pay taxes. They want to learn English. They are, for the most part, hard-working, churchgoing, loving parents who only wish for their children what we all want: an education, good health and future happiness. Many have stories of war, persecution, poverty and desperation that no average American could imagine going through. Until we walk a mile in their shoes, we should reserve judgment.
What is your personal motivation in the work you do?
Fairness and compassion are my biggest motivators. Having grown up in a developing country myself, I know firsthand what these immigrants may have gone through. Some of the desperately poor countries they hail from are overrun by gangs, drugs, corruption, natural disasters, civil wars, injustice and an overall lack of hope for the future of their children. I feel disheartened by some of the comments from a small, vocal group of Americans who are quick to accept as factual the misinformed and often offensive diatribe of some alarmist media outlets. At the same time, I am encouraged by the people who support and value our mission and vision, and especially the optimism-filled faces of the students I see coming in for their evening English classes.
I certainly do not encourage illegal immigration, nor do I condone it. These folks are here now, and they need our help, and deserve the same opportunity for the pursuit of happiness that all of us are guaranteed not only under our constitution, but for the mere fact of being human. www.centrohispanomd.com