Simple Gifts

  JFON Southeastern Michigan client and new U.S. permanent resident reminds us of the things we take for granted 

When Carolina and her family left Chile for the United States in 1999, she thought they were going for a nice visit.

“I had no idea whatsoever of my parents’ plan to stay,” she says, shaking her head at the memory.  “I was young and I didn’t understand much.”

Carolina adapted to her new life, as kids usually do. She went to school and studied hard in her ESL class so she could keep up with her new American friends. She graduated high school and planned to continue on to college.

That was when she realized, like so many young immigrants before and after her, what it means to be undocumented.  Like the sudden shock of a hard frost on young fruit, Carolina’s dreams withered and died. She gave up her plans for college. She got a job instead; the kind of job you get when you don’t have a social security number.

Fast forward a few years, with two young children and a U.S. citizen husband, Carolina wondered if she could finally secure her status in the country she had long considered home. A friend told her about Justice for Our Neighbors Southeastern Michigan.

“Everyone was so nice,” Carolina says of her first experience at the immigration legal clinic at Ypsilanti First United Methodist Church. “This is where I was introduced to our attorney Melanie Goldberg.”

“Carolina was very sweet,” remembers Melanie. “I didn’t know why she hadn’t done anything before, but I was glad I was able to help her.”

Carolina and her children enjoy a day in an apple orchard, picking and eating some of Michigan’s finest fruit. 

On the outside, Carolina’s case—being married to a U.S. citizen and having in-laws ready and willing to be her support sponsors—looked like it would be a relatively routine one. But Melanie soon discovered that there were some issues to resolve before they could proceed.

For one thing, they needed additional documentation, and that would require extra time.

“Melanie was so well prepared,” says Carolina approvingly.  “She took the time to thoughtfully request precise evidence to be sure that I wouldn’t be at risk of denial when filing for my green card. Although it slowed us down a bit and I was eager to get things rolling, I was glad she spent time researching and making sure we wouldn’t have any delays.”

JFON SEMI handles 15 – 20 green card cases each year; each typically takes about six months. Carolina started the process in November 2016 and finally received her permanent residence this past September.

“I felt secure and confident with her beside us in the interview,” says Carolina. “She filled out every form for me and prepared us so well.” Carolina takes a deep breath. “I literally couldn’t have done it without her help.”

Carolina is normally a shy person, and definitely not a fan of public speaking. Yet when asked to tell her story at our annual JFON Roundtable Conference in Detroit, she jumped at the opportunity to express her gratitude and her joy.

“I am now proud to say that I’m a permanent resident,” she told the audience, smiling shyly at the thunderous applause, “and, God willing, I will soon be a U.S. citizen!”

Carolina and her husband have two children—an 18-month old daughter and a 6-year old boy.  As she speaks, Carolina comes back to her children again and again. Yes, Carolina’s working life has changed, but, more importantly, her life as a mother has changed. It’s obvious which change she values the most.

“Last year, when my son was in kindergarten,” she relates, “I missed so many activities because I was not driving. I missed field trips and performances, and it made me super-sad. But now, with the benefits of being a legal resident, I can confidently sign up for volunteer work and to chaperone at field trips.”

Parents in the room steal glances at each other. Did any of us ever consider chaperoning an elementary school field trip a “benefit?”

“Now,” Carolina adds, her voice quavering with emotion, “I can speak with the rest of the moms without feeling somehow left out. It feels amazing not having to worry about my children’s future, and be able to save for their college education.”

Carolina rubs happy tears from her eyes and beams. From someone who was living day-to-day, she is now living for the many days ahead of her, with hopes, plans, and dreams. She and her husband would like to travel. They want to work hard so that one day they can move into their own home. Carolina would also like to pursue her long-delayed dream and go back to college.

“I want to set a good example for my kids,” she says, “that no matter how old you are, you can continue learning and dreaming to achieve higher.”

Carolina, like so many of our clients, reminds us of the many simple things we take for granted. Perhaps one day she’ll take them for granted, too. Today, however, these simple things are still very new and wonderful.

“I have no words to describe how blessed we were to have found JFON,” she says simply. “Melanie was more than a lawyer to me. I felt like she was my good friend.”