Our affiliate highlight this month is Paz Padilla, whose dedicated work and faith-filled service at Catholic Charities Diocese of Monterey is inspiring.
Paz’s journey – from filing her own application for naturalization to assisting vulnerable immigrants navigate the same complicated process—highlights the strength of our network and the passion and expertise of its staff.
I have been working for Catholic Charities Immigration Program for almost 15 years. I often say I got this job “by the grace of God.” When hired at Catholic Charities, I didn’t know anything about Immigration beyond what I had learned from going through the complex process myself when I was 15 during the amnesty and later, submitting my own citizenship application. Working in immigration was a struggle at first but attending CLINIC trainings made it much easier. The presenters and courses made it easy for me to understand the process on even the most complex issues. Being able to call CLINIC about a complex issue and receiving a prompt response has helped me to do my job better. CLINIC staff are very professional and create a friendly atmosphere for learning.
Part of my job is attending monthly meetings with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in Los Angeles. This collaboration has been extremely positive. I have been able to get assistance on specific issues that arise with clients and have collaborated in combining presentations throughout San Luis Obispo County. The community has responded very well to these USCIS presentations. One event I will never forget is when the Vermont Service Center participated in a presentation in San Luis Obispo on U-Visas and VAWA for both community agencies and law enforcement. It was a great success.
As years went by, I started to fall in-love with my job! The ability to bond with my clients in a professional way--hearing about their struggles as they immigrate and adjust to life in the United States – has been a blessing for me. This is what makes my work so profound and enjoyable.
One particular case that I will never forget is a case in Paso Robles, California. A friend told me that his sister-in-law had a petition pending by her Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) LPR husband. Back then, second preference cases could take a long time. The sister-in-law was suffering from heart and lung issues, and she needed a heart and lung transplant, but she didn’t have proper immigration documentation to be placed in a waiting list. This really saddened me. I kept thinking about this family as days went by.
On one of my trips to USCIS, I had lunch with an immigration officer and expressed my concerns about this family. The immigration officer advised me to call him with the specifics regarding the case. I didn’t think much of it because I knew he was going to tell me that we needed to wait for the priority date. The next day, I called and gave the immigration officer the information he requested, and he told me that he would give me a call back. Well, the call took some time, but I eventually got it! The immigration officer said, “Paz, go ahead and file the adjustment and I would like to see them next week. Bring the clients and all the documentation with you.” I was in shock!
I called the clients, we worked on the adjustments, got everything in order and, the next week we were in LA waiting for the Adjustment of Status interview. I tell you, I was nervous and my clients were as well. I waited for some time, and when they came out, the expressions on their faces were indescribable. The sister-in-law hugged me and started to cry. The husband had no words to express how thankful he was for my services. The adjustment of status had been approved. I think this is the only time I’ve cried with my clients. I was overwhelmed with the way USCIS handled the case and how helpful they were. My client had her transplant and is enjoying life with her husband in good health. This is the case that I will never forget, my first experience and my first encounter with miracles.
*Paz Padilla is an Immigration Specialist at Catholic Charities, Diocese of Monterey in Watsonville, CA
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