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The proper accreditations have been received and the Immigrant Hospitality Center located on East Main Street is now open for business with Bobby Farmer at the helm. 

“We’re open on Thursdays, both in the morning and in the evening, to offer convenient times for people to come in,” Farmer said. “We’re finding most of our visits are pre-scheduled for the most part. We provide the flexibility for those who need it.”

The plan for the next couple of months is to have Thursday be the day that the center is open and see how it goes. The primary work that Farmer has been doing are family petitions, meaning that a United States citizen is petitioning for a relative to have their lawful, permanent residency in the United States.

“We’re working on four cases right now with our partners, Central Latino in Hickory and Counsel on Immigrant Relations in Raleigh,” he said. “They’ve been at it longer than we have so they give their input and guidance.”

It’s not necessary to be an attorney to provide immigration legal services, but the individual providing these services must take a certified class, which Farmer has done. The center also has a second staff member, a bilingual woman from Ecuador who’s working on a volunteer basis.

“She went through the same training that I did,” he said. “She needs a little bit more experience before she applies for her accreditation, but eventually she’ll be a Department of Justice accredited representative. That’s a good thing – within our first year we’ve already sponsored somebody in their training.”

Another accomplishment for the center was the receipt of an $8,000 grant from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and Lifesong Ministries of Lincolnton to be used towards rent for 2020. In addition, a potential citizen class is in the works to be held in conjunction with ESL classes offered at Punto Victoria Ministries in Lincolnton. 

The idea for the center originated during a Southern Baptist Convention. Farmer has studied cultural anthropology and had an interest in community, so he agreed to take part in the program.

Operating essentially under the radar to offer immigration services through the center, Farmer refuses to take sides on the immigration dispute. 

“I think it’s a very practical way to carry out my faith and be a positive voice in a very heated debate,” he said. “When I say positive voice, I mean I’m not going to either side of the issue and being divisive but really coming in and helping to educate people. A lot of the division is really based on a lack of understanding and the vagueness of who these immigrants are.”

Farmer works to humanize the issue which he believes makes people less quick to react.

“We’re here if people need us,” he said. “We’re not trying to compete with attorneys either, but at the same time, if people need low cost immigration services, we’re here. It’s a safe place where they can tell their story and it will be respected.”

The Immigration Hospitality Center is located at 415 East Main Street. The center will be open by appointment. Farmer can be reached at (980) 284-2011.

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