A new initiative in northern Indiana offers shelter from the stress and complexity of immigration law. La Posada (shelter or inn) is opening to the public in May out of an office in Sunnyside Mennonite Church in Elkhart.
The nonprofit organization offers legal resources such as written materials — and help with applications, legal counsel, English classes and referrals — to the immigrant community at an affordable cost.
La Posada founder Naun Cerrato, who is also the pastor of Piedra Viva Mennonite Church, was inspired by the Bible’s imperative to welcome the stranger.
“As an immigrant myself, I know what it is like to not have a lawyer,” Cerrato said. “I know what it is like to not have $5,000 or $10,000 to have a private lawyer.”
He and others in Elkhart County identified the need for low-cost legal assistance in 2020.
“If you were an immigrant here and heard there is an immigrant lawyer [30 miles away] in South Bend, you would be discouraged, because it’s so far away,” he said. “We did a local study in the area and decided to come together and form an organization that reflects a biblical approach to immigration.”
Cerrato gathered individuals and churches in 2021 to support the project.
Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary donated office furniture. Goshen College donated computers. Indiana Michigan Mennonite Conference provided other equipment. Schowalter Foundation gave a $20,000, grant and Mennonite Central Committee Great Lakes signed on for financial support.
“These amazing Mennonite churches want to help the community,” Cerrato said. “Here we have people who want to help.”
An immigrant might need a not-for-profit lawyer due to problems related to challenges they face. For example, Indiana is not one of the 16 states that allow undocumented people to obtain a driver’s license.
“Even driving to Walmart you are in a situation where you might get pulled over, depending on the police officer, and it can escalate to another level,” Cerrato said. “Let’s create an organization that reflects who we are as Anabaptists to help.”
La Posada’s staff will include an immigration attorney and office manager. Its board is composed of several local Mennonite pastors and church members. The board reflects Cerrato’s goal to have an immigration law office based on Anabaptist priorities of peace and justice.
Cerrato was recently hired by Mennonite Mission Network as a constituent engagement representative. His church has also been a member of MMN’s SENT Network.