June, 2021

Northside Chronicle Feature

Northside’s Christian Immigration Advocacy Center setting big goals under new director

The organization is now operating under the direction of its original founder, Pastor Glenn Hanna, along with its senior legal staff.

Ashlee Green

It may be a small organization, but the Christian Immigration Advocacy Center (CIAC), located in Pittsburgh’s Northside, does big work.

CIAC works with immigrants and refugees throughout Pittsburgh to assist them in getting green cards and visas; filing for U.S. citizenship; and securing family reunification, asylum, and removal defense services. They’re a local organization made up of just one branch, but their services—namely, immigration law—can stretch nationally.

Rogerio Torres, who worked part-time and remotely for CIAC from his former home in Lexington, Ky., just moved to Pittsburgh to take a full-time position with the organization this spring. An immigrant himself, Torres knows the struggles that many of his clients go through to create new lives for themselves.

“When you think about having a life in a totally different place, there are barriers”, he said, citing language and culture as two of the major ones. Many immigrants, Torres explained, do not have access to government assistance and often come to the U.S. with little to nothing to their names.

Torres himself immigrated to the U.S. from Brazil back in 2006. He came with six pieces of luggage: no furniture, no kitchen utensils. He was working as a lawyer in his home country but his degree was not accepted in the U.S. and he had to start from scratch.

“[You] need to start on the bottom of the ladder and most immigrants will never leave that bottom because they don’t have a chance”, he said.

Instead of pursuing law school, Torres focused on his faith and worked toward his master’s of divinity. Eventually, he became an accredited representative—a non-attorney legal representative recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals—with the Department of Justice.

Now, in his role at CIAC, he’s putting his passions for both ministry and law together. He hopes to be the person he was missing in his life for his clients: Someone to help navigate the often complicated legal system and what’s more, to do it on the cheap.

CIAC, like many organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, has undergone major structural and staff changes over the past year. They went entirely virtual for a stint and earlier this year, former executive director Ryan Driscoll announced that he was leaving to open his own law firm. The organization is now operating under the direction of its original founder, Pastor Glenn Hanna, along with its three-person senior legal staff.

“We are working diligently, however we’re still young and small”, Torres said. The organization hopes to one day offer ESL and naturalization classes to help their clientele better prepare for naturalization interviews.

They continue to partner with churches and other institutions to accomplish their dream for every immigrant to learn the English language as well as a trade, giving them more tools to succeed in America and eventually call the country their home.

At this time, Torres said, CIAC has two law student volunteers for the summer, but they’re looking to find more helping hands for administrative tasks.

“If we have more help, we can help more.”