Catholic Charities Employee Assists Clients in Sharing the Journey

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by Lucy Medvec, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana

Since 2012, Catholic Charities of North Louisiana (CCNLA) has provided assistance and guidance to immigrants as they seek to become legal residents or naturalized citizens of the United States. The Immigration Integration Services program consists of immigration attorney Briana Bianca, immigration advocate Gilda Rada-Garcia, and volunteer Izabela Carabelli, and serves clients throughout north Louisiana.

Last year, 14 of CCNLA’s clients became United States citizens. It is a long and arduous process, culminating with a special ceremony in a courthouse. In the past, Rada-Garcia has always attended this ceremony to cheer on her clients, but on September 12, surrounded by friends and CCNLA staff members, Rada-Garcia joined two of her clients as they took the oath to become United States citizens.

Rada-Garcia was born in Venezuela and came to the United States in 1986, where she lived and worked. Her oldest son was born in New York before she returned to Venezuela in 1999. In 2012, she returned to the U.S. and came to live in Shreveport with her family through a diversity visa, which was awarded through the lottery system.

It was after Rada-Garcia had lived in the U.S. for five years that she was able to take the first steps toward becoming an American citizen by filing an application in April 2018. She traveled to Fort Smith, AR, in July 2018 to be interviewed and take the citizenship test, a test that surveys show only one in three current Americans can pass. In order to prepare for the test, Rada-Garcia was given a list of 100 questions which could possibly be on the test, covering the subjects of government, history and civics, geography, symbols and holidays. The test consisted of 10 questions, with six correct answers needed to pass. After passing both the interview and test, Rada-Garcia was ready for the final step – taking the oath to become a U.S. citizen.

Immigration attorney Briana Bianca celebrates with client Julie Esie (Cameroon) and her son, Peter Nche, as Esie became a U.S. citizen on July 11, 2018.

When interviewed prior to the ceremony, Rada-Garcia said that she was looking forward to calling herself an American. “I got to know this country as a resident and have enjoyed working with our immigrant clients,” she explained. “I take my role as an American seriously, as well as all of the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship.” When asked if she felt any hesitation about the ceremony, she replied, “I have not lived in my native country for many years and now consider the United States to be my home. I would not be the person that I am without my life as a Venezuelan, but now I am happy to say that I am an American.”

She described the process as “something that is finished, yet something that is just beginning.” Having gone through the citizenship process herself, Rada-Garcia will now be able to use her experience in order to help CCNLA’s immigrant clients go through the steps of citizenship.

The Immigration Integration Services program is funded in part by the Louisiana Bar Foundation and United Way of Northwest Louisiana. To find out more information, contact Catholic Charities at 318-865-0200 or visit www.ccnla.org.

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