Colonias Development Center: Integrated Services for Immigrant Families

Integrated services for immigrant families, focused on legal advice for those seeking citizenship


  • Immigrants with permanent residency
  • Families of mixed status
  • ISIF teachers and aides

Desired Outcomes

The CDC’s ISIF program aims to provide a safe space for immigrants and families of mixed status to find ways to gain citizenship. The CDC also wishes to improve the quality of life for people living the colonias by creating opportunities for social, economic, and environmental justice.

How the CDC build relationships?

Integrated Services for Immigrant Families supports immigrants who want to change their legal status and become citizens. New citizens often come back to the CDC and volunteer, even working their way up to being a teacher of the citizenship classes they once took. New citizens also bring their friends and families back to the CDC to get the classes and services.


  • Teachers’ wages – New Mexico minimum wage
  • Volunteers’ wages – TA stipends
  • Employee wages

Time Resources

The citizenship classes are sixteen weeks long with two classes a week. They include fourteen weeks of USCIS curriculum and two weeks of student’s interest classes. Time is also spent conducting the surveys to decide what will be offered in those weeks. Another time resource includes training the teachers on the curriculum.

Other Resources

The CDC employs teachers trained to give the USCIS classes. Towns offer classrooms in various locations for free to teach. They receive funding assistance with Migrant CARE and Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation. Some volunteers come from nearby New Mexico State University.

Direct Partners

Other Sponsors

Our Story: "We go to them because it is more cost-efficient to send one teacher than bring a whole community."
The Colonias Development Council (CDC), created in the 1980’s era of national immigration reform, started with the goal of improving housing quality for immigrant families living in the unincorporated border settlements (“colonias”) of southern New Mexico. In its first two decades of service, CDC’s programs and services have evolved and grown to meet the needs of thousands of low-income families throughout Doña Ana County and the surrounding area. Among other programs, the CDC offers “Integrated Services for Immigrant Families” (ISIF). The ISIF program provides a sixteen week citizenship class, mock citizenship exam interviews, and assistance completing paperwork required for naturalization.

People come back and they want to teach. We’re recycling folks getting them in all parts of our organization. That’s knowing the whole picture.

The Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces created
the Colonias Development Council (CDC) in 1988 to address immigrant and farmworkers’ rights. Some of the CDC’s original services included W-9s, ITIN applications, novice support, and DMV assistance. After the financial crisis of 2008, the CDC lost all of its funding. At the same time, the Catholic Families’ (CF) program that offered immigrant legal services also closed, leaving many clients unsure of what had happened with their citizenship applications. Three CDC staffers decided that the best way to bring their organization out of its financial crisis was to refocus their efforts on legal services, filling in the gaps left when CF’s program closed.The CDC staff continued to do the work of the center, even as they had to go onto unemployment while CDC was unable to pay them. The CDC consolidated their legal services into the ISIF program in 2012. ISIF provides a safe space for people seeking legal immigration services and citizenship classes. Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) accredited staff at CDC help clients complete forms, like the 1-912 fee waiver assistance form, related to their citizenship application process. Currently, only two employees possess the BIA certification needed to offer officially recognized legal advice. Still, the CDC handles one case at a time so each client receives the right information from the right experts. In addition to legal advice, CDC teaches citizenship classes in eight towns: Anthony, Chaparral, Butterfield, Doña Ana, Vado-Del Cerro, Sunland Park, Hatch, and Las Cruces. Classes take place in venues that are free of charge, such as churches, resource centers, libraries, and community action centers. Classes meet twice a week with around fifteen students per class.

CDC-ISIF classes last sixteen weeks, grounded in the United States Customs and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) fourteen-week citizenship curriculum. During the additional two weeks, CDC teaches about eligibility for various social services, advance directives, history of immigration and intergenerational trauma, housing discrimination, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), screening for mental health, community mapping, the electoral process, family emergency guidance, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), while also saving time for structured mock interviews.  The CDC conducts regular surveys of new citizens to see what topics they think best for those extra two weeks of class meetings. In the last three years, the CDC helped 360 people receive their citizenship and assisted 1500 people for walk-in services.

Today, through advocacy, leadership development, and opportunities for civic engagement, the CDC continues to address many needs of the rural communities in Doña Ana and nearby rural communities. In addition to citizenship-related legal services, they provide Early Childhood Education at the Chapparal Family Development Center, and Promotoras de Apoyo Familiar which empowers women as local leaders able to advocate to meet their communities’ needs and to inform their neighbors about immigration, health, legal, and other services available.


CDC offers immigrants affordable, reliable legal services related to the naturalization process. Without their assistance, too many people seeking citizenship pay more than necessary, at considerable hardship. CDC’s citizenship classes go beyond the basics to respond to needs identified by the clients themselves. Many students return to CDC to thank them for their support.


The CDC pays their teachers minimum wage and offers their volunteers a teacher’s aide stipend. Some teachers began as students, became volunteers and, after obtaining their citizenship, came back to teach the new generation of citizens. Also, since the CDC depends on small fees from clients, it uses a fee schedule to determine how much clients pay. If clients are truly unable to afford the fees, the CDC will not turn them away. Because of this financial obstacle, the CDC cannot afford to give their employees many hours for their work week. Given that the CDC only has two workers who are BIA certified to give legal aid, other CDC employees must remember to refer clients to those two employees when clients have specific legal issues.

Things to Remember

  1. Establish thorough policies and procedures for day-to-day operations of your organization.
  2. Train teachers carefully up-front.
  3. Ensure that all staff and volunteers possess a broad understanding of all available services.
  4. Know when to say you cannot do something.
  5. Learn from other programs and customize their efforts to fit your needs.

Learn more about this project from the people who created it: