The Sins of the Father

Cantankerous, proud and devoted to helping immigrants, Father Justin Lucio's singleminded sense of duty led to overblown charges of "scandal"

Lucio's determination to counsel immigrants is almost freakishly strong. He spends his time now trying to salvage retirement money from Casita Maria, going to dialysis and, because of his reputation as an immigration counselor, occasionally advising immigrants who insist on seeking him out. In May, Briones and Lucio attempted to start a second Casita Maria (for-profit this time) named Casita Guadalupe, but they didn't get far before the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services caught wind of the effort from a Morning News article and announced that Casita Guadalupe was not an accredited organization. One day not long ago, however, Lucio could be found talking on the phone with a real estate agent about some office space. He is dying, and he's not accredited by immigration authorities, but he thought the office sounded like a nice place to start counseling immigrants once again. "That sounds good," he said. "That sounds good."

Nothing came of that conversation, but recently, because Casita Maria is dangerously low on funds, Vogel was ordered by an Austin judge to sell the three buildings it owns. According to a report filed with the judge, there were three bidders; one of them is a 36-year-old immigration attorney named Michael Warrior, who has represented Lucio before and given pro-bono legal advice to immigrants at Casita Maria. Warrior's bid of $236,000 was $15,000 less than the highest bid, but Vogel has recommended to the judge that "it is in the best interest of Casita Maria and its clients" to accept Warrior's offer.

"What I want to do is keep this a very low-cost community organization," Warrior says. Warrior says he didn't consult with Lucio before he made his bid, and when I asked Lucio if he would play a role in Casita Maria if Warrior's offer is accepted, Lucio wasn't aware that Warrior had made a bid. He said his presence there is up to Warrior if his bid is accepted, but that he would donate his time, "maybe an hour or so a day if I don't get tired."

Justin Lucio: "His whole life has been geared at fighting, no matter what the consequences," says Lucio's lawyer Michael Thomas.
Justin Lucio: "His whole life has been geared at fighting, no matter what the consequences," says Lucio's lawyer Michael Thomas.
Lucio in front of his DeSoto home, where immigrants still seek him out.
Tom Jenkins
Lucio in front of his DeSoto home, where immigrants still seek him out.

A final hearing hasn't yet been held on the sale, Vogel says, but a fourth bidder has made a last-minute offer. Vogel won't reveal the bidder, but he does say that "there's at least a glimmer of hope that [Casita Maria] might be able to come out of this looking pretty good."

Lucio appeared in the News again on September 11. American Work Visa, a company that finds temporary or menial jobs for immigrants, is establishing an office in Dallas. The News reported that Lucio had been hired by Juanita Vera, the vice president of American Work Visa, to handle immigrants' work visas. Lucio had secured Vera's husband's papers; she thought he had done an "excellent" job. What the paper didn't print, and what Vera has confirmed, is that although Lucio "helps out" at American Work Visa, he's not getting paid.

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