Matt* lived through a lot before he came to the United States. A native of Sudan, he fled his home country following the second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005), which resulted in the deaths of two million people and the displacement of four million more.
He and his family lived in a refugee camp in Chad similar to the one pictured at the top of this page for 10 years before he came to the United States with his wife and five children in 2016. Here in Memphis, Matt and his wife can lead a peaceful life and raise their children without fear.
Matt first came to Catholic Charities of West Tennessee for help preparing the forms that grant him legal permanent residence. This is called an adjustment of status, and it is the first step on the legal path to U.S. citizenship. He received help from Immigration Services at Catholic Charities, and he and his family worked with a partner agency to get the medical exams that must be submitted to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in order for individuals to be documented as legal permanent residents.
It can take as long as seven months to get green cards, which verify individuals as legal permanent residents. As Matt and his family waited for their green cards, they went on with their lives – Matt working at the warehouse and the children going to school. But Matt ran into problems when he went to renew his driver’s license. DMV staff kept asking for additional documents and would not renew the license, which made Matt very nervous.
He was overjoyed when Chris Butson, director of Immigration Services at Catholic Charities, called recently to tell him that green cards had arrived. When she handed him the seven green cards, he cried.
“I’ve seen joy in peoples’ faces but I saw relief in his face like I had never seen in any others,” she said. “He just kept saying, ‘Thank you. Thank you to the U.S. and thank you to everyone who helped him.’’’
Green cards are valid for 10 years, and Matt and his family are eligible to apply for naturalization in five years to become U.S. citizens. To achieve that goal they must all successfully complete an interview in English with USCIS in their local office.
The Immigration program of Catholic Charities served 482 individuals in 2018. Although the agency is no longer taking on new legal clients in Immigration, Chris is working to complete the 175 cases that still remain active in her department.
Going forward, Catholic Charities will continue to provide supportive services to immigrants and refugees by offering naturalization classes to help them prepare for their citizenship interviews and offering English as a Second language classes.
That means Catholic Charities can continue to walk with Matt and his family on the path toward U.S. citizenship. “Working to help immigrants and refugees opened my eyes to the world, personalizing each, individual country,” Chis said. “It is a gift to serve God’s people.”
*Name changed to protect client’s privacy.