By KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA—After working more than 15 years for the University of South Carolina’s Institute of International Studies, writing grants and managing funding projects, Glenda Bunce was ready for a change in her life.
Fortunately for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Charleston, her job change would result in a perfect fit for a position they needed to fill for their newly established Office of Immigration Services in Columbia. The bilingual lawyer not only brings to the job her legal skills, but because she is fluent in Spanish, she provides a much-needed vehicle for communication for the majority of her clients who are Hispanic.
For Bunce, a native of Aiken, it was a kind of homecoming to work for the nonprofit agency. While attending the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill during the ’60s, she became interested in the Peace Corps. Inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s famous quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” she spent two years working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Venezuela, where she perfected her Spanish. Determined to stay proficient in the language, Bunce traveled several times to Mexico and Guatemala attending schools that taught refresher courses in Spanish.
A graduate from the University of South Carolina’s Law School and a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Bunce does not regret her choice to work for the nonprofit organization as opposed to working for a prestigious law firm.
“It is more important for me to do something meaningful than to make a lot of money. I make enough to live comfortably, and I am at a point where my needs are not great,” said Bunce. “I feel fortunate to have found something interesting to do where I can use my law degree and work with Hispanics.”
Bunce spent the first couple months on the job turning an old building into a workable office space and training for this particular area of law. Although the agency, which is an affiliate to Catholic Legal Immigration Network, has not been open for business long, it already helps about 10 clients a week, offering low-cost immigration service to those who otherwise could not afford a lawyer.
“Lack of legal status creates an entire class of poor people who are disenfranchised from basic rights and services,” said Dorothy Grillo, director of Catholic Charities. “We have set up this office to provide affordable, high-quality immigration services to these people who make significant daily contributions to the economic, social and cultural life of South Carolina.”
The office, staffed currently by Bunce, provides services for individuals throughout the entire state such as helping individuals file to bring family members to the United States, apply for citizenship or permanent residency, file for temporary protected status, establish asylum or protection from harm as the law provides, file as religious workers and/or help individuals replace lost or stolen documents. As the need grows, Catholic Charities hopes to expand their services with additional offices throughout the state.
“There are many immigrants in South Carolina who have entered without inspection (also described as undocumented or illegal entry) and unfortunately there is not much we can do for them besides document their work in the U.S. through things like the individual tax identification number,” said Bunce, who encourages her clients to seek citizenship if possible.
Part of Bunce’s plan to help get the word out to the immigrants is personally visiting Catholic parishes and missions that serve large communities of people coming from other countries. Recently she returned invigorated from a one-day trip to St. Francis Mission in Walhalla, where she was able to assist more than 20 people with filing for naturalization petitions, for permission to travel, for residency and other requests. She plans to make a follow-up trip to the area to check their progress and provide additional service and guidance if needed. Divine Providence Sister Regina Baker, Hispanic minister for the Walhalla area, helped arrange the help session.
One thing is certain, Bunce has a desire to make a difference and help others, especially the Hispanic people whom she deeply admires for their strong work ethic and family-centered lifestyle. In her new position working at the diocesan Immigration Office, she will be given many opportunities to do just that.