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When Jorge Sandoval walked into Sister Joan Scheller’s office, she greeted him by saying “Hola Paisano!” Even though Sandoval had been in Sister Joan’s office many times before, this was the first time she was able to call him “Paisano,” which means “fellow countryman” in Spanish. The greeting produced a big smile from both Sandoval and Sister Joan.
Sandoval, originally from Michoacan, Mexico, became a US citizen on August 16, 2012. The work leading up to that moment started months before. Sister Joan was there to help him every step of the way.
Sister Joan is an Immigration Representative who works through the Diocese of Evansville-Guadalupe Center based in Huntingburg, Indiana. The Guadalupe Center is part of the Evansville diocesan outreach for Hispanic ministry, with immigration law services being a small part of services offered by the center. As an Immigration Representative, Sister Joan works in the specific area of “Family Immigration Law”, assisting immigrants with Lawful Permanent Residency, Deferred Action, renewal of residency, Temporary Protected Status and other family immigration services. Sister Joan travels weekly to offices in Huntingburg, Washington and Evansville serving immigrants throughout the Evansville diocese.
“I never in my life thought I’d be practicing law,” says Sister Joan, “but, I like it. We are able to offer legal immigration assistance to people who otherwise would not have access to it.”
Immigration law is Federal Law and as such, is the only area of law which can be practiced by someone other than an attorney. However, an Immigration Representative, must be certified by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and affiliated with a BIA recognized office. The Guadalupe Center is BIA recognized and Sister Joan is BIA certified.
Jorge Sandoval is one of 30 local residents whom Sister Joan has helped with their application for citizenship in the past two years. First she met with Sandoval to prepare his 10-page application. Then as they awaited a response to his application, Sister Joan met weekly with him to prepare for the next step comprised of an interview and an oral test. The “citizenship test” (100 questions) requires basic knowledge US government, history and civics as well as English proficiency—speaking, reading and writing. Approximately three months after sending the application, Sandoval was scheduled for his interview with an immigration officer in Indianapolis. Following that interview, he was recommended for citizenship and finally, scheduled for his Oath Ceremony.
“I always ask my Sisters for prayers when my clients go for the Citizenship interview and test. I let my clients know that they have a whole community of Benedictine Sisters praying for them,” says Sister Joan. “It’s nice to get them through the process. It is a special feeling of accomplishment and joy when they come back from their Oath Ceremony and proudly share their Certificate of Citizenship.”
Sandoval recalled that when he first came to Sister Joan’s office he I felt welcomed. “Knowing she is a (Benedictine) sister made me feel confident and comfortable. I could talk to her about everything.”
As Sandoval sat at Sister Joan’s desk and signed his citizenship certificate, he was grinning ear to ear.