La Salette Missionaries, Province of Mary, Mother of the Americas

From USAF Colonel To Immigration Specialist

Fr. Robert Ippolito, M.S., (right) with
Bp. Michael Burbidge of the Diocese
of Raleigh
As a La Salette priest for 39 years, I have preached each year on the gospel passage from Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” but now I know why these words are so challenging to defend and so central to our faith. 
 
As Pope Benedict in this year’s Lenten message states: “Christians can… express their membership in the one body which is the Church through concrete concern for the poorest of the poor… Our hearts should never be so wrapped up in our affairs and problems that they fail to hear the cry of the poor.” In fact, this concern for the poor was expressed well with Our Lady’s concern for the lives of the two young witnesses of her Apparition at La Salette and her ongoing call to make her message known to all her people.

A New Call

Church of St. Brendan the
Navigator in Shallotte, NC
I came late in life – at age 57 – to serve the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised. In fact I was living a very comfortable life in a two-story apartment on Signer Boulevard in Honolulu, Hawaii, making a substantial income. Then, in 2004, I retired after 30 years in the United States Air Force as a Colonel. After my sabbatical, I returned to serve in the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, with my compatriot, Rev. Hector LaChapelle, M.S., where we had both served in the 1980s. 
 
Previously I had the opportunity to learn a little Spanish while serving as Administrator in Wrightsville Beach for three months before coming to Shallotte. That is how I started. 
 
I was assigned in 2005 as pastor of St. Brendan the Navigator Parish, located in the beach communities of the southeastern part of the state. There were about 300 Hispanics in the parish with one Mass offered in Spanish. 
 
Our parish grew and so did the Hispanic community. Now we have 1,150 registered members in our parish. With daily practice and study, my Spanish got better. In 2009 I decided to start a citizenship program because we had several parishioners who were Lawful Permanent Residents (aka green cards). This program involves getting paperwork together and applying for their citizenship. It went well and so far we are have received 30 citizenships and no denials. In addition we have received unsolicited donations of over $35,000 to help with the fees for these applications for citizenship. 
 
Over several months, I began to get more and more involved in immigration work. I dealt with complicated deportation situations – mothers who were deported and yet had to leave left their children behind. Also there were other problems with the police.
 
One day I read about a position called Immigration Specialist which actually is a certification by the Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review as a partially (or fully) accredited representative to the Board of Immigration Appeals. That is the official title. This certification allows a person who is not a lawyer to do all immigration work except represent clients in immigration court. 
 
So I approached Catholic Charities of Raleigh to agree to sponsor me so I could work under their auspices. In order to obtain this certification, one has to demonstrate a sufficient knowledge of immigration law. I started taking courses and workshops and webinars mostly conducted by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC). My first course was “Immigration Law for Paralegals” from North Carolina State. Then I accumulated several hours of webinars, attended several workshops in Dallas, TX, Manchester, NH, and El Paso, TX, plus other online courses. 

A Needed Ministry

domestic-violenceFinally, on September 2, 2011, I was officially certified as an Immigration Specialist. While I do lots of different things, I specialize in “U” visas. This type of visa involves a person who has no papers and is the victim of a crime. If they report the crime and cooperate with the police and the investigations, they are entitled to this special visa which allows them three years of legal residence after which they can apply for a green card. Most of the victims in this category are women who are victims of domestic violence. 
 
I am also specializing in I-601 waivers for Unlawful Presence. This is when one spouse is a citizen and the other spouse has no papers. It is an extremely difficult, involved, lengthy and expensive process but there are no non-profit agencies in North Carolina doing this work and very few immigration attorneys who will pursue these cases because they are very time-consuming. I intend to be the person in Eastern North Carolina they will go to when they need this waiver. I have already been studying this material for six months in addition to taking a course geared to this waiver. 
 
I never expected to be ministering in this important area of advocacy but it seems that God wants me to use my talents to help the poor and defenseless. My advocacy ministry is certainly expressive of our La Salette ministry of reconciliation. I hope I can make a difference in the lives of immigrants with whatever time God gives me on this earth. 


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