At times like these, the memory of certain clients can fill my mind and re-kindle my heart. One client on my mind in heart right now is Rigo. Rigo, who is now 72 years old, arrived in the United States approximately 45 years ago and has lived here ever since. He came to Taller De José because he needed an interpreter for his citizenship interview at the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services Field Office (USCIS). When I first met Rigo at our office, I could tell he was nervous, Rigo’s hands were shaking. I told Rigo that his appointment with me would just be a mock interview and there was no need for him to be nervous. He was my priority and we had no need to rush today.
If you have never seen a N-400 application for US Citizenship, I invite you to search for one online. The application is not only long, but asks some uncomfortable and invasive questions. I always begin the mock interview by explaining the day-of so clients can visualize themselves completing each step: first, the check-in process, being summoned by an officer, and then actually sitting in the interview room. As Rigo settled into his seat as if it was the actual day of the interview, I began going through his application. Rigo answered the questions confidently and without rushing. We finished that portion of the interview and I continued his mini-simulation by quizzing him on civics questions. Civics questions are questions about the United States history, such as what does the constitution do? And who does a U.S. Senator represent? Clients find these questions so nerve wracking because they are answering these questions before an immigration officer that will ultimately make a decision as to whether or not approve their citizenship application. Rigo answered all of the questions correctly and we finished with the appointment at Taller De José.
When the day of Rigo’s citizenship interview finally came, I checked him in and we waited to be called on. Although by now I personally know many of the immigration officers, on this day we were called by someone that I had not met before. Rigo cruised through the civics questions without skipping a beat and worked his way through each question until he was asked if he was currently working. Rigo answered with “No, but I receive food stamps”. The officer stared at him and flipped through his application. I felt my heart begin to race as I silently struggled to see where this line of questioning was going. The officer then asked Rigo if he had left the country in the last five years, to which he answered “yes”. More flipping. She then asked him if he had notified the Department of Human Services that he had left the country for three months, to which he answered “no”. The officer ended the interview and informed Rigo that he’d receive a letter in the mail from USCIS asking for evidence from the public aid office.
That next week I accompanied Rigo to the public aid office to help him comply with the demand. We were able to obtain a letter with the services that Rigo had received from the public aid office. With that letter in hand, Rigo asked me to accompany him to USCIS to show the officer his proof. We brought the letter to clerk and were told to wait a week. Sure enough, one week later I received a phone call from Rigo. His application for citizenship was accepted! He thanked me for helping make this dream come true for him. This memory of working with Rigo makes me feel a sense of gratitude and optimism. It also makes me feel hopeful, I am hopeful that one day I will be able to accompany clients once again.