La Esperanza solves immigration challenges in Sussex


Immigrants play a critical role in southern Delaware’s dynamic economy, working in hospitality, construction, and also agriculture, the state’s No. 1 industry. Most of these immigrants are from Latin America.

La Esperanza, a nonprofit organization in Georgetown, helps immigrants adapt to their new country and travel the road to citizenship. Its immigration services are in high demand. In 2017, the organization offered immigration services to more than 1,380 clients. At the beginning of April this year, La Esperanza’s immigration specialists were working on more than 157 cases.

“We educate our clients and provide outreach into the community. We can refer people to attorneys and to other professionals when necessary, though we can handle much of the documentation required to navigate through the immigration process,” said Immigration Specialist Bryant Garcia.

Garcia earned an immigration accreditation from the U.S. Department of Justice. He and Immigration Specialist Yvonne Willey are a “starting point” for La Esperanza clients who need help with immigration issues.

“The important thing is that immigrants are not acting upon rumors, that they get advice immediately, before it is too late, if they have any questions or issues,” Garcia added.

He said that more than half of his clients have some legal status, but need help acquiring one or more of the required state or federal documents. He and Willey extend visas, renew work permits, fill out petitions for family immigration, and guide permanent residents to citizenship. They mainly work with clients from Latin America, including Haiti, but also have clients from Asia and Eastern Europe.

Garcia and Willey also educate immigrants on the rights noncitizens have under the U.S. Constitution.

“For 20 years, La Esperanza has been at the forefront of supporting Latinos to achieve their goals and dreams,” said Rosalía Velázquez, executive director for La Esperanza.

She said Latino immigrants account for more than 10 percent of Sussex County’s population and are a “vital part of our economic engine.”

“The Latinos who came here 20 years ago pulled up their bootstraps, worked fearlessly and sent their children to college or trade schools. Today, many are professionals, buying homes, opening up their own businesses and giving back to our communities,” she said. “Yes, their story is the story of America.”

La Esperanza was founded in 1996 by local leaders and three Carmelite Sisters of Charity, Sister Maria Mairlot, Sister Rosa Alvarez and Sister Ascencion Banegas, to help Guatemalan and Mexican immigrants.

Although the sisters retired last year, an active board, and eight dedicated staff members — as well as friends and volunteers from throughout Delaware — continue their work. Today, the organization helps all immigrants who ask for help across the Delmarva Peninsula.

“We collaborate with many organizations, with churches and with schools to meet the needs of Latino youth caught between two cultures,” Velázquez said. “And while we provide many services to help families, much of our work lies with immigration services.”