Each step in the immigration process opens up new opportunities for former refugees. Far more than just getting a new id card, an upgrade in immigration status can open the door to new and better jobs, security from deportation, freedom to travel, the right to vote, study in college, and ability to apply for additional family members to join them. We are asked for our immigration status throughout our lives, but most native-born American citizens don’t realize that’s what they’re being asked when they provide their birth certificate at important junctures in life.
For families who came to the US as refugees, citizenship has incredible meaning. For some, it has been a life-long dream, and for others it is a profoundly meaningful way to belong in the country that has welcomed them. Our Immigration Services team has worked with many single, widowed mothers to attain citizenship for them and their children. It’s a long and expensive process, but they know that it’s worth the sacrifices. Our staff member Nancy Rogneby shared the story of working with Naima for the 3 years it took to complete the citizenship process for her and her 6 children. Even though Naima doesn’t read or write in Somali and lives 2 hours away from our office, she persistently worked to get the letters, papers, and documents needed to complete this process. She understood the safety and security this would provide for her children’s futures in the United States.
When a parent who arrived as a refugee completes the process for US citizenship, that citizenship is not automatically conferred to their children. In order to provide families and children with stability in the US, MCC Refugee Services does a lot of education to make sure that families understand that their children also need a certificate of citizenship. Deriving citizenship from a parent is less complex than the process for becoming a citizen, but it does require officers to verify that the parent and child are biologically related and that the parent was in physical custody of the child when they were naturalized. It’s very beneficial to complete this process as soon as possible after the parent becomes a citizen, because as time passes it can be more difficult to find the evidence demanded to prove these factors, especially in case of a tragedy, like the death of the parent. Nancy Rogneby pointed out that in an immigration court scenario, a person may only have a short time to prove their citizenship, so it’s so valuable for families to complete the certificate of citizenship process as soon as possible so that children’s status and future is secure.
MCC staff work to help families achieve their dreams of citizenship and belonging, and we also are there for the various steps along the path as a family’s American story develops. For example, a few years ago, a gentleman named “Abdi” arrived in the US as a refugee and then joined the staff of our office. When he was ready to apply for his wife and 4 children to join him, he worked with MCC’s Immigration Services team to complete the application process. After working with Abdi every day and knowing how much he longed for his family to join him, the entire MCC staff was at the airport to celebrate their arrival and reunification. Abdi has now moved on to another job working within state government and he came back to us for assistance with applying for citizenship for himself, his wife, and their now 5 children. In just 6 years in the United States, Abdi and his family have achieved so much. They own a lovely home, he’s working in a stable career, and their children are thriving in school.
If you came to the US as a refugee or asylee and would like assistance in immigration-related matters, please be in contact with us. You can find detailed information about our services on our website. Individual donations help us keep our services fees low. If you would like to support Refugee Services, you can make a donation here.