El Pueblo Ministry Now Helping Coast Hispanic Immigrants

A new ministry is helping South Mississippi's Hispanic immigrants with the challenge of adapting to laws and customs of this country. Earlier this month, El Pueblo opened its doors in East Biloxi. The director says El Pueblo, which in Spanish means "the village," is committed to teaching immigrants their rights.

Margarita Rodriguez and Maria Avila tell horrifying stories of years of domestic abuse. Both say as Mexican immigrants, they felt they no choice but to stay with their husbands.

"I would have lost everything I had worked for because I could not find anyone to help me," said Avila in Spanish.

El Pueblo is a new ministry of the United Methodist Church that reaches out to the Hispanic immigrants living on the Mississippi coast.

The Rev. Sally Bevill, the program's director, says the immigrant population has grown tremendously since Hurricane Katrina, but so have abuses against them.

"There was a huge need with immigration. Them understanding what their rights were, who could and couldn't get legal presence here," said the Rev. Bevill. "We've had a lot of abuse at the work place - people not getting paid right, not getting proper safety equipment, contractors running off and not paying them. Then we had issues of children in the schools. We needed to get them in school."

To meet the needs of the growing Hispanic population, El Pueblo's staff became certified to do low-cost immigration legal work, normally done by an attorney and costing thousands of dollars.

Immigration Specialist Mary Townsend said, "A lot of people need immigration counseling. There are a lot of people who have their work authorization, which has to be renewed each year, and they need help doing that. There are people who are married to U.S. citizens, so there are a lot of people who need immigration work."

Townsend found a new victims of crimes law to help Rodriguez and Avila apply for VISAS on their own behalf, instead of through their husbands.

Rodriguez said in Spanish, "It's very good because she helps the Hispanics a lot. She has helped us a lot and we see that she has a lot of interest in helping the Hispanics."

"Secure," said Avila. "I feel secure because if I have a problem and I come to them, what they can help me with, they will help me with. Always."

El Pueblo is located on Judge Sekul Avenue in Biloxi where there is a large Hispanic immigrant population. The director say plans are to expand the ministry into a Spanish speaking United Methodist Church. The Rev. Bevill says El Pueblo is also an advocate for immigration reform.