By CATHERINE GRATTAN     8/24/2022

Coming to the States on a student visa in 2007, Colombian native Fredy Mancilla grew accustomed to life in America.

After obtaining a theology degree and studying through the Diocese of Orange, he applied for a worker’s visa and became an ordained priest.

Yet, it wasn’t enough for Fr. Mancilla to live and work in the United States; he wanted to make it his home by obtaining citizenship.

At two years-old, Myra Lopez came to the U.S. with her family for the first time in 1992, from Morelia Michoacan, Mexico. By the time she was four, her family had decided to remain in the United States.

Growing up in American culture and attending public school, she considered the United States home like anyone else. Yet, it was not until her teenage years that she learned of her undocumented status after telling her parents she was planning
to get a job and obtain a driver’s permit.

Recalling the shock, Myra said, “you grow up thinking you are a citizen with the same rights and dreams as everyone else.”

Unable to see a path to success as an undocumented immigrant, she plunged into a downward spiral, becoming a single mom a year later. Not knowing there were people and organizations ready to help her, she felt alone without any hope of obtaining citizenship and the opportunities that came with it.

Like Myra Lopez, Fr. Mancilla recognized the invaluable rights and privileges conferred through citizenship. Knowing the naturalization process required time, study and paperwork, he felt the benefits still outweighed the costs.

Fortunately, Fr. Mancilla knew others who received help and were familiar with Catholic Charities of Orange County’s Immigration and Citizenship Services.

Not hesitating to take full advantage of such resources, he came to Catholic Charities of Orange County (CCOC) for help and was promptly connected with a CCOC immigration counselor to help him through the citizenship process.

While Lopez did not share Fr. Mancilla’s network of people familiar with CCOC, a digital marquis advertising CCOC’s immigration and citizenship services caught her eye at Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove.

With her residency about to expire, Lopez saw the marquis as a sign from God. Knowing help was available from CCOC gave her the confidence to start the citizenship process.

Both Lopez and Fr. Mancilla experienced a wave of relief, no longer alone on the path to citizenship.

For Lopez, walking into CCOC’s doors for the first time was a blessing. Her immigration counselor, Jenny Rodriguez, gave her a book and questions to help her study for the citizenship exam and interview. Not knowing it was possible CCOC attorney helped her simultaneously fill out paperwork to renew her residency and petition for citizenship.

Through CCOC, she learned about other organizations like the Mexican Consulate, where she was able to obtain financial aid.

Fr. Mancilla was especially grateful his immigration counselor, Kathy Lopez, was there to advise and direct him to resources. She also explained legal forms unclear or hard to understand.

“We tend to believe, ‘I can do this on my own- but that’s not a good approach,’” reflected Mancilla.

The help and resources of CCOC are available to all; a person need only be willing to accept the help.

The wait between submitting the citizenship application and becoming naturalized was short for both Fr. Mancilla and Lopez.

Submitting her paperwork with the help of CCOC in September of 2019, Lopez received a response from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in January of 2020. She interviewed for citizenship in February and was a United States Citizen by the end of the same month. For Lopez, the experience was surreal and extremely emotional.

She is quick to acknowledge God as her guide along her path to citizenship.

“Only God knows how I got there,” she said.

Fr. Mancilla began receiving help from CCOC in October of 2021. His CCOC immigration counselor even accompanied him on the day of his citizenship interview in March of 2022. That same day, Fr. Mancilla pledged himself to be a faithful citizen of the United States. He is still getting used to the prideful feeling of being a U.S. Citizen, having just recently received his U.S. Passport in the mail.

“I used to say I’m from Colombia- actually now I am an American,” he said.

Fr. Mancilla advises anyone engaging in the citizenship process is to take the time to practice and develop English- speaking skills English is not only valuable for the citizenship test, but as a life skill.

He is also grateful Catholic Charities’ citizenship and naturalization classes which include knowledge on American government and English development.

Lopez wishes more people looking to apply for citizenship knew about CCOC’s Immigration and Citizenship Services.

Creating hope and serving all, CCOC is ready to help anyone who comes to its door.

CCOC is proud to offer a free 12-week in-person US Citizenship and Naturalization Test preparation course starting September 27. Classes will take place on Tuesdays (medium-intermediate level) and Wednesdays (advanced level) from 5-8:30 pm. To register, email [email protected] or call 714-347-9610.

Additionally, you can donate to CCOC’s Immigration & Citizenship Services at ccoc.org/donate. To support our Citizenship & Refugee Services, text CRSOC to 91999.