By Jorge Luis Macías     5/16/2016

Catholic Charities of Orange County, the Office of Life, Justice and Peace of the Diocese of Orange and a team of volunteers from the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church continue efforts to provide information and to help 160,000 Orange County residents to apply for U.S. citizenship.

The Parish Initiative for USA Naturalization/Citizenship gathered at least 80 people and families on May 7 at Our Lady of Guadalupe. During the initial orientation session, they reflected on the journey of the Holy Family during their departure to Egypt because Herod wanted to kill the infant Jesus.

“I want to become a citizen to feel even safer,” said Carmen Lozano, divorced mother of three citizen children: Fabian, 19, Bianca, 16, and Heilly, 13. “I want to integrate myself more to my community and to vote in November.”

Carmen, born in Michoacán, Mexico and La Habra resident for almost two decades, said her main motivation is fear of the speeches of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump against immigrants, Muslims and women. “I realized that being Permanent Resident is no guarantee,” Carmen said. “And I’m afraid that immigration laws could change and the racism and hate speeches begin the separation of families.”

The forum was one of many scheduled after the Immigration Summit convened by the Most Rev. Bishops Kevin Vann, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, and Rutilio del Riego, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of San Bernardino Feb, 27 at Christ Cathedral.

The citizenship effort is part of the Church’s commitment to assist immigrants, including the undocumented. It was launched after the unprecedented gesture of Pope Francis on the US-Mexico border and the Holy Year of Mercy. In Ciudad Juárez, Pope Francis prayed for deceased migrants; faced with a cross placed on a platform looking toward the United States, the Vicar of Christ blessed the hundreds of people who saw him on the U.S. side and talked about “the human tragedy that is forced migration.”

“We want to remind our immigrant brothers that the Church is present with them and we want to accompany them on their path to citizenship,” said Greg Walgenbach, Director of the Office of Life, Peace and Justice. “Not only do we give them information, but also share our own immigration stories.”

Betsabé Rangel-Orona, member of the Board of the Immigration Association, said that in the area of La Habra, Fullerton, Brea and Whittier there are approximately 5,000 Legal Permanent Residents who could apply for citizenship. She said some people are intimidated by the complicated process, fear of the English test, have little money and lack basic information about the process.

“That is why we are working,” she said. “These people could be the voice of the voiceless and those who are living in the shadows.”

There are many benefits for Legal Permanent Resident to consider citizenship, including the right to vote, eligibility for federal jobs, and safeguards against deportation. The benefits, qualifications and the procedures will be discussed during the next Immigration Forum at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 18 at St. Philip Benizi Church, 235 S. Pine Dr., Fullerton 92833. For more information, call 714-871-3610.