Don’t Try This at Home—Qualified assistance for immigration applications is vital

The form to apply for US Citizenship may not look overly intimidating. You can view it online easily. But what the average person filling out this 20-page form might not appreciate is the fact that every single question triggers a different provision of US immigration law and that a single error can lead to a denied application or worse, like possible deportation proceedings. This is why seeking assistance from a qualified immigration provider is so critically important.
MCC Refugee Services is one of a few agencies in the Twin Cities and Mankato that provides immigration legal assistance to former refugees applying for immigration documents. Applications for US Citizenship are just one of the many processes that MCC Refugee Services’ staff handles. The Immigration Services team also helps with certificates of citizenship for children, Green Card applications and replacements, travel documents, and family reunification petitions. Unlike a well-meaning friend, or even some paid helpers, MCC Refugee Services is recognized by the Department of Justice to perform immigration legal services, showing that our staff is trained to the highest standards. That status also means that our accredited staff can, and do, walk through the entire process of filing immigration forms, following up on issues, and even accompanying individuals to their interview appointments. Other than attorneys, DOJ-accredited representatives are the only other qualified individuals to have this level of access. The DOJ recognition MCC carries also puts us in touch with a broad network of support. We regularly consult and refer within a network of immigration lawyers and other DOJ-accredited representatives.
Our immigration services team includes Nina Vang, Nancy Rogneby, and Theresa Milazzo. Nina Vang leads our Immigration Services team and has been with MCC Refugee Services for 14 years. Nancy Rogneby first connected with MCC as a volunteer through our Taking Heart interfaith co-sponsorship program and then joined the Immigration Services team 7 years ago. Like Nina, Nancy is also a DOJ-accredited representative. Theresa Milazzo is a Lutheran Volunteer Corps member this year and is providing additional support to the team.
Individuals who come to Refugee Services for immigration assistance are carefully screened. Our staff emphasizes that just because a person is eligible to apply for an immigration benefit doesn’t mean that they should. Particularly in the current climate, the government is actively looking for people who have any mistakes or irregularities in their status, or who might have committed a crime as a Green Card holder. Even unconscious mistakes, like a misunderstanding about American legal understandings of marriage or divorce status (which can be quite different from cultural understandings) or being poorly advised on how to file tax returns could lead to serious consequences for an individual if they apply to change their status and trigger the automatic background check process. Our screening process also looks for ways that Refugee Services’ other programs might be able to help a family in other areas of need like employment or health care services.
Sometimes, it takes a special case to help recognize the true value of this connectedness and level of follow-up. Recently, we had the privilege of working with Said, an 89 year-old former refugee from Somalia. Since childhood, his one dream was to be an American citizen and it was his dearest wish to become a citizen before he died. He started the process of applying for citizenship with the help of MCC Refugee Services, but then fell very ill. He was in the hospital for 4 months and we had to keep rescheduling his interview. During a period of wellness, he was finally able to complete his citizenship interview and then went back in and out of hospitalization. Said was dying. Refugee Services reached out to USCIS, who agreed to send out an immigration officer to administer the oath of citizenship at Said’s home. His daughter called to tell us that he died peacefully two days later, and to share how much it meant to him and to his family that he was finally able to achieve his dream. This was such a bittersweet moment for our staff as well. Far from being just a series of numbers and forms, the families we serve in immigration services are individuals we care about deeply.
If you came to the US as a refugee or asylee and would like assistance in immigration-related matters, please be in contact with us. You can find detailed information about our services on our website. Individual donations help us keep our services fees low. If you would like to support Refugee Services, you can make a donation here.