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Mercedes Aguilar, left, and her husband, Alex, review U.S. history April 4 – with help from their daughters, Mia and Estefania – as they prepare to become U.S. citizens. Catholic Charities is helping the couple, members of St. Cecilia Parish in Omaha, work through the naturalization process. Photo by Lisa Maxson/for the Catholic Voice.

Immigrants appreciate Catholic Charities aid

If Catholic Charities is looking for an endorsement for its assistance to immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens, the charitable arm of the archdiocese need only turn to Mercedes Aguilar and Arturo Adame.

Aguilar, a member of St. Cecilia Parish in Omaha, and Adame of Divine Mercy Parish in Schuyler, have benefited from Catholic Charities’ help filling out the required forms and reviewing the applications before filing them with the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Aguilar is preparing to become a U.S. citizen and Adame became one March 1.

Both Mexican immigrants said they have been blessed living in the United States, and have relied on their faith throughout their lives, especially along the journey to citizenship.

Adame, who crossed the border in 1994 at age 16 during a trip to visit his father and later became a permanent U.S. resident, submitted his citizenship application last summer after hearing then-candidate Donald Trump’s plans for immigration during the presidential campaign. Although he has lived in the United States for 23 years, he hesitated to apply because of some bad choices he made more than a decade ago, he said.

 

Prayerful Journey

"But after much prayer, we felt that God wanted us to put our fears aside and trust in him," said Adame’s wife, Alejandra Dimas, a U.S. citizen.

Prayers continued as Adame, who has worked at Hormel Foods in Fremont for almost 20 years, prepared for and had his interview with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

"When my husband’s representative came out of the interview ahead of him, she exclaimed, ‘He passed!’ My eyes filled with tears and so did my husband’s," Dimas said. "We gave glory to God. I can remember vividly how humble my husband looked at that moment. He knew whose works that was: God’s alone."

Almost 47 years old, Aguilar, a permanent U.S. resident, said she wants to become a citizen because she has lived nearly her entire life here.

"I don’t know anything different," said Aguilar, who came to the United States at age 3 with her mother and six siblings to join her father, who was already working in Chicago. "I love this country and what it stands for. ‘One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’ … those words are simply beautiful."

Aguilar said living with a chronic illness – she was diagnosed with kidney failure as a teenager and is on dialysis – and the financial toll that has taken on her family kept her from moving toward citizenship for 43 years. And until recently, her husband Alex, a Mexican immigrant also seeking citizenship, envisioned moving the family back to his home country.

Now just seems like the right time, she said.

"Thank God for Catholic Charities because they take away any uncertainty or fear you may have when it comes to becoming a citizen," Aguilar said. "I always heard that it would cost an arm and a leg to pay for the whole process. I guess you can say it was just ignorance on my part. Misinformation can take so much out of you."

 

Helpful clinics

Last year, Catholic Charities held nine naturalization clinics in Schuyler, Omaha and Norfolk, where it assisted 146 clients in becoming U.S. citizens, said Jessica Bernal, immigration program director for Catholic Charities’ Immigration Legal Assistance Services in Omaha.

Interest in citizenship has grown since the presidential election, she said. Many legal immigrants have been motivated to naturalize due to the fear and misconception that if they travel outside the United States, they could face problems returning and being admitted back into the country, she said. Many also want to vote, and as citizens could face shorter waiting times for family reunification, she said.

Catholic Charities plans to have four naturalization workshops this year and will add more if necessary, Bernal said. The next workshop will be June 3.

Adame and his wife said they aren’t nervous about immigration issues concerning their immediate family. They are, however, worried about what the future holds for relatives and other families in their community.

"We are nervous about having broken homes because of separation due to deportations, which leads to poverty and parenting challenges," Dimas said.

Aguilar isn’t concerned about her immediate family either.

"My family and I are hard-working, law-abiding human beings," she said. "Both my parents and the majority of my siblings are U.S. citizens."

Still, she said she looks forward to voting in the next presidential election, and remains hopeful as she and her husband wait to become citizens.

"I have a lot of faith and pray that Trump really does make America great again, but not by hurting the hard-working people," she said. "I always say that we should be united in prayer for him."

Aguilar said she is grateful to God for bringing her to the United States, where she attended Catholic school, graduated from college and received life-saving medical care – things she said never would have happened if her parents hadn’t immigrated.

"This is a beautiful free country that has so much to give."

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