In the News
November, 2021

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Reunited for Good

North Side non-profit helps Pittsburgh’s Immigrants

Joshua Axelrod

Marsha Boyce was born in Brownsville, raised in Homewood and currently resides in Oakmont.
The 56-year-old is a Penn Hills High School and Geneva College graduate who spent a decade teaching in public schools and has been working with social-service agencies as a family counselor for 25 years now. Her Western Pennsylvania roots run deep, as does her not deeply religious but “pro-God” outlook on how to approach every aspect of her life.

In 2017, Ms. Boyce received an out-of-the-blue Facebook message from a man in Nigeria named Segun Daniel Lawal. The two had a mutual friend, and although Ms. Boyce approached the situation skeptically, those Facebook conversations soon evolved into long phone calls and Skype sessions. He also had an education background and a strong connection to his faith. In 2018, she flew to Nigeria to be with him in person, and sparks flew.

“It didn’t feel like I was meeting a stranger,” she said.

The couple married on Oct. 19, 2019, at a church in Gambia. Ideally, the plan was for Mr. Lawal to be granted a visa so he could come live with Ms. Boyce in Pittsburgh. That process has taken three years now and has so far included two approvals, one revocation of said approval after missing a deadline due to bureaucratic red tape, one interview postponement because of the COVID-19 pandemic and endless hours of frustration at how long it has dragged on.

It’s of some comfort to Ms. Boyce at least that she has the support of the Christian Immigration Advocacy Center, a North Side nonprofit that provides low-cost and sometimes pro bono legal assistance to Pittsburghers struggling to navigate the immigration system, guiding her through the long and windy road to finally being reunited with her husband for good in the United States.

“From the very beginning, they made me feel comfortable, hopeful and what I had in my heart, they also shared the same thing,” she said. “They were very compassionate and patient. I’ve never met any group of people that provide a professional service like that and are so full of love and compassion.”

CIAC is the brainchild of founder Glenn Hanna, 69, of Penn Hills, a recently retired pastor at the North Side’s Allegheny Center Alliance Church. His desire to pivot from preaching the Gospel to helping immigrants and refugees was sparked by a realization that the North Side’s Northview Heights neighborhood was home to a lot of Somali Bantu refugees and a meeting with one of that community’s leaders who said what they really needed was help learning English and legal aid.

The city itself also seems to have come to a similar conclusion given that outgoing Mayor Bill Peduto recently proposed the establishment of a permanent Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs that would provide those communities with language and financial assistance, among other initiatives.

Joshua Axelrod
Pittsburgh Post Gazette