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9/17/2012 12:01:00 AM
This is my country
Program offers help through complex citizenship process
Courtesy photo
Edith Smith, with her family, husband, Don, and sons Donald and Christopher, at the Grand Canyon, became a U.S. citizen earlier this year. Edith completed the paperwork for the citizenship process during Sacred Heart Church’s Citizenship Day in October 2011.
Courtesy photo
Edith Smith, with her family, husband, Don, and sons Donald and Christopher, at the Grand Canyon, became a U.S. citizen earlier this year. Edith completed the paperwork for the citizenship process during Sacred Heart Church’s Citizenship Day in October 2011.
Courtesy photo
Juan Mendez became a U.S. citizen earlier this year, after attending Sacred Heart Church’s Citizenship Day in October 2011.
Courtesy photo
Juan Mendez became a U.S. citizen earlier this year, after attending Sacred Heart Church’s Citizenship Day in October 2011.
Karen Despain
The Daily Courier

When Prescott resident J.C. Adams saw day laborers "hiding," she "got upset," she said.

Knowing that a lot of Hispanics attend Sacred Heart Church, she asked the priest what she could do to help them.

"You can teach them English," the priest told Adams, a retired English teacher.

That same priest, Fr. Art Gramaje, asked retired Arizona Public Service executive Mike Johnsen what particular project might interest him as he studied to become a deacon at Sacred Heart.

"I expressed an interest in immigrants," Johnsen said - the immigrants coming across the desert, the coyote smugglers and the deaths that occur when people try to reach the American border in the treacherous, hot climate.

Fr. Gramaje then asked Johnsen if he might be willing to take on Citizenship Day, a program that helps people - who are legal permanent residents but not U.S. citizens - begin the process.

Johnsen, now chair of Sacred Heart Church's Citizenship Day, readily agreed. The first Citizenship Day took place in October 2011, and the second is planned for Saturday, Oct. 6, at Sacred Heart Church, 150 Fluery Ave. Appointments are necessary by calling 928-445-3141, ext. 323. The day begins at 9 a.m.

Legal residents of any nationality will receive free help in filling out their citizenship applications. To become a U.S. citizen, it is necessary to have been a legal permanent resident of the United States for at least five years or have been married to a U.S. citizen for at least three years and been a legal permanent resident for at least three years; be at least 18 years old; be able to speak, read and write English; and to have good moral character with no criminal problems in the past five years, including DUI/DWI or other felonies. Applicants must also pay a fee to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to have their paperwork processed. The current fee is $680. During the one-day event, trained volunteers will complete participants' U.S. citizenship applications (the Naturalization-400 form) with the information applicants provide, and attorneys will review applications for accuracy.

When people interested in Citizenship Day call for an appointment, they will find out whether they qualify for the workshop and what documentation they will need to bring with them. Johnsen said the program needs a photographer to help take photos of each person, and he would like a financial institution on hand to prepare money orders for the $680 fee that must accompany each application. Those interested may call him at 928-713-4490.

When applicants have gone through Citizenship Day, all they will have to do is take their completed paperwork to the post office for mailing.

"We can't guarantee they will get citizenship," Johnsen said, emphasizing people seeking citizenship have to take a test. "We can't guarantee they will pass the test, but we will give them the tools to get there" in a "trusting, honest manner."

Once U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, which Citizenship Day volunteers work closely with, receives the application package, participants may have to wait for answers for several months, Johnsen said.

Prescott residents Edith Smith and Juan Mendez are two who took advantage of Sacred Heart's Citizenship Day last October and ultimately achieved U.S. citizenship in early 2012.

Smith and her husband, Don, a retired law enforcement office, have two sons. She was born in Veracruz, Mexico, and came to America from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, nine years ago.

Of the Citizenship Day experience, she says, "It was beautiful. Everyone was so nice." When she was sworn in as a U.S. citizen, "I was very emotional. I am very proud to be an American. The feeling is special."

Mendez and his wife, Stella, were married in 1976 after meeting at a dance in Palomas, Mexico, a town on the border of Columbus, N.M.

They moved to Phoenix to look for work in 1977, and Juan first worked for a Mexican bakery for six months, before getting a job with Bashas' Grocery Store. Stella gives education advocate Eddie Basha a lot of credit for helping people, such as Juan, go to school at a community colleges to take classes to help them with English, reading and writing - an opportunity Juan accepted.

As a result of this schooling, Juan was able to move up to managing bakeries in the grocery store chain, and did so in Prescott, until the store closed down. Now, he commutes to Bashas' in Camp Verde every day.

He had resisted applying for citizenship, he said, because he was afraid he wouldn't pass the test. But, knowing he wanted to vote and after "I studied and my wife pushed me a lot, it wasn't that hard at all," he said.

He took the oath in Phoenix this past February. "I raised my right hand. It was unbelievable," he said. "I feel much better. Now, I feel that this is my country."

Free English and civics classes are going on now at Sacred Heart at 5:30 p.m. every Monday and Tuesday, Johnsen said. People can call the church for information or "just show up."

Adams teaches English, writing and literature every Monday and Tuesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. year around at the Prescott Public Library.

"Their eyes light up when they know their children will have all of that" - the Bill of Rights and the American flag, she said of the people she teaches. "That's why they do it. That's why they become citizens. This is what will give their children a better life. They all want to become citizens in a very heartfelt, sincere way."

"They were so thrilled," Johnsen said of people who have become citizens. "They said, 'You know what, I can vote.' They were good, hard-working people who couldn't vote. They realize how important this is in a free society."

Sacred Heart's Citizenship Day is non-political and "based on respect for human life," Johnsen said. It's a program to help individuals achieve a new status of dignity in their lives."

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I am all for this however I personally work with some illegalls and this guy thats 21 years of age is the head of household on a food stamp case. But his family are driving new cars, they are buying houses so I askes him how he was doing that? He goes into telling me that his family owns avocado fields in Mexico and are racking in the money that they dont have to claim to get food stamps. They get $750 a month in food stamps and bring in over $3000 from Mexico THIS is what I dont like!!!!!!

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Article comment by: Lyle Sentiss

One question. Lost in this supposedly heart warming story is a big question:

Did they become US citizens, are they giving up the citizenship of their old country. Probably not.

Many new US 'citizens' (especially from Mexico) become dual nationals. I think this is an outrage, yet our government (and that of Mexico) thinks it's great, as Obama herds the newly minted American into the welfare line.

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Article comment by: R S

SB 1070 now will be enforced. Watch the illegals flee to other states like a human pinata was just broken! Those states will enact 1070 legislation even tougher and those who are using the slave-like labor of illegals will be held accountable!

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Article comment by: Just Saying

Illegals cost billions to US taxpayers. They also suppress wages and raise prices due to increased demand.
There are an estimated 20,000,000 illegals in the USA today. This is unsafe.
As far as Obamnesty, those who sign up to be identified in the computer, pay the $500 and are put into the computer must certify they have not broken the law. Working under the table or on a false ID is a felony and disqualify a candidate. The parents of the candidate can and will be charged with human trafficking a class 2 felony. Subject to a decade in Federal prison. The candidates even let ICE know where to pick them up.

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Article comment by: @ Church & State

This isn't even close to a church and state issue. The church isn't telling people how to vote, etc. Rather, these people are stepping up to help others achieve their dream. Churches in the past have always helped immigrants learn the language and help them achieve citizenship. Personally I say if someone wants to become a citizen, let's do all we can to help!

Imagine as whacked out as some of us are, people want to be one of us anyway!

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Article comment by: Most Cultures are Welcome

I welcome anyone who is going to contribute sufficiently to our society.

No TAKERS need apply.

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Article comment by: John Citizen

a great story but thousands of illegals take advantage of the "system" and drain the taxpayer and the treasury. Also, we forget if illegals can enter our country so easily, so can terrorists. Charity should begin at home, not with other countries. Ever try to become a Mexican citizen? Takes more than crossing a border.......................

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2012
Article comment by: Wait a Minute...

First and foremost, i applaud the people taking the necessary steps to become legal citizens of the US of A - congrats to you.

But wait one minute, the wino brought up a good point. Liberals are always crying about separation of church and state. Doesn't this cross the line? I supose Michelle Starchild will comment with more than 300 words on just how it isn't, because it is a warm, heart-felt story.

Unemployment still well above 8%...I thought Obama was going to fix that?

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2012
Article comment by: Big J to the Fredo

I love this article. The Mendez family are some of the greatest people I've ever met! Props Juan!

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2012
Article comment by: Northern Star

CONGRATULATIONS TO Edith and also Juan!
What wonderful work to hear about. Keep up the great work.

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2012
Article comment by: I was born here

I was born in prescott az moved away came back 5 years ago and my eyes were opened to the kind of people that live here. Its really sad when people cant help another human being or they are against helping people become citizens. We always cast blame on someone else because its easier than looking at ourselves. Its always easier to try and belittle someone when we ourselves have self esteem issues.

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2012
Article comment by: Captain Howdy

To Wino and The American. If you two folks read the article closely, you would have noticed that these people are here legally and did not break any laws in coming here.
That being the case, I say Welcome one and all.

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2012
Article comment by: Gobbledygook from the 'Wino' and 'An American'

We read a thoughtful, hopeful, well-researched and written courier editorial, and what happens? It is responded to with mean, hurtful, short-sighted, uninformed, biased comments. Add that to the mess Blair and Hanna caused ... and you soon realize Prescott has more than its fair share of intolerant unlearned bigots.

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2012
Article comment by: An American

So exactly what is wrong with our immigration policy?....... To complain about the cost is rediculous, they will pay thousands just to get smugled into this country, and if they can not come up with the money for the processing fee, how can they support themselves and their family?...... One other requirement I would like to see is, the applicant must not have defrauded the taxpayer of the United States by taking government assistance of any kind..... It is good to see our system/citizens, and immigrants doing the right thing. Well done.

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2012
Article comment by: Advice To The Wino

You and your rambling are making zero sense. Perhaps you had better go sleep it off.

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2012
Article comment by: the wino

What a novel idea!
Instead of staying illegal aliens(criminal element--mexican drug cartel) and living off the middle class AMERICANS- hard work and sweat!
What happened to: Separation of CHURCH+STATE?
Will "BIG BROTHER" come down hard on you?
Heaven forgive- if the FED'S would do there job--to the letter of the law.
Remember AMERICA is made up of a LAWS and more LAWS!--0% ENFORCEMENT.

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2012
Article comment by: Congratulations to All

Finally, an article that is positive about immigration. Being a second generation American, I can say, I've never known more proud Americans than those who chose to come here and become citizens. My family members loved America and were the most patriotic people I've ever known. Congratulations to all of the people who worked hard to become citizens. And Also to Sacred Heart for all of their efforts to make our community a positive one.

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2012
Article comment by: What a wonderful, uplifting story. Somethng good to read about.

Better be careful, though. Messrs Blair and Hanna might again fear that Prescott be thought a 'Mexican' town.

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2012
Article comment by: Real RETIRED DOJ/I.N.S/DHS OFFICER

And it's in the courier!!??

Sad the prices are soo high today to become a citizen..My wife and her mom paid $25.00 in the 70's to become citizens...Citizenship Employee's/ salaries come from fee's paid for citizenship applicants, green cards, work permits, Visa's etc....

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