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Becoming an American: Decatur woman celebrates new citizenship

By Racey Burden | Published Wednesday, September 20, 2017
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New Citizen

NEW CITIZEN – Ivonne Fernandez received her naturalization certificate last week, making her an official U.S. citizen. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Ivonne Fernandez of Decatur has waited almost her entire life for the piece of paper she was given in a courtroom in Fort Worth last week.

Fernandez, who came to the United States from Mexico with her parents as a toddler, received her naturalization certificate Sept. 14, making her an official American citizen at 27 years old.

“When it was all over, it was a relief,” she said. “I was really excited.”

The road to citizenship has been a long one. Fernandez and her parents were undocumented immigrants when she was a child, though she doesn’t personally remember worrying about what that meant.

“For me, I would just go to school and come home,” Fernandez said. “But my dad didn’t have a good-paying job.”

Her parents divorced when Fernandez was 9, and she went to live with her mother, Irene, in Mexico. Fernandez is in a wheelchair, and she said it was difficult for her mother to care for her, so after a few years in Mexico she came back to the U.S. to live with her father.

“She knows I have better opportunities here,” Fernandez said.

But without the proper documentation, she knew she wouldn’t be able to cross the border to see her mother again for a long time.

“I spent six years away from my mother because I couldn’t go back,” she said. “It was really hard to come back [to Texas].”

Her uncle, who was already a citizen, had petitioned to sponsor Fernandez, her father, her aunts and uncles and her grandparents for green cards and eventual citizenship. It took 15 years in total, but the undocumented family members were finally granted their green cards, making them legal residents. By law they had to be residents for five years before they could apply for citizenship.

For Fernandez, becoming a citizen was a goal to achieve not only for herself, but so she could sponsor her mother, who’s still living in Mexico.

It was actually her brother, Valente, who first tried to sponsor their mother. Valente was born in the U.S., so he was always a citizen. He started the process of petitioning for their mother’s green card when he was in the hospital recovering from surgery on a brain tumor.

“He was just really frustrated because he wanted to see my mom,” Fernandez said. “He was able to petition for her, but we didn’t have any money for a lawyer.”

Fernandez decided to see an attorney anyway, just to find out what it would take to get their mother a green card. She took an Uber from the hospital to the law office of Tessy Ortiz in Fort Worth. Ortiz heard their case, then said she would take it on pro bono.

“I was in shock when she waived the fee. I was like, ‘Can you even do that?'” Fernandez said. “She said, ‘Yes, I’m the lawyer.'”

So she went back to the hospital to tell her brother the good news.

“I’ll never forget the look on his face,” Fernandez said. “He would always call me ‘dude.’ He was like, ‘Dude, are you serious?'”

Because her brother was ill, Fernandez was constantly taking trips between the hospital and Ortiz’s office, working on the petition for him. She would fill out the paperwork, and then he would sign it.

But Valente wasn’t getting better. Eventually Fernandez convinced him to go to a hospital in Tijuana for cancer treatment. There, they were finally able to reunite with their mother.

They were traveling separately back to Texas, so the last time she saw him, Valente gave Fernandez a big hug and a kiss. He died in March, on his way home from that trip to Mexico. Valente was both her brother and her caretaker, and Fernandez was left to mourn the close relationship they’d had since they were children.

“We had a bond that I just don’t have with anyone else,” she said. “When he was born, I wanted to hold him so badly. My mom wouldn’t let me because she was afraid I would drop him. I went into their room once and found him on the bed, so I picked him up and I dropped him.

“One of my favorite things about him was when I’d be laying down, and he was like, ‘Dude, get up!’ I’ve been dealing with depression for a long time, and he was the only one who knew I was ticklish on my knee. He’d tickle me to make me laugh.”

After his death, Fernandez decided she would take over their mother’s sponsorship. She’d already filled out her own citizenship application in October 2016, but it took much longer than she expected for an appointment for her test and interview to be scheduled.

“When I filled out the application, they said it would take two months,” Fernandez said. “It took seven months. So I was worried, and there’s no number really that you can call. There’s no number to ask. You just wait.

“Sometimes you’re thinking, ‘What if I don’t get to do this?’ or ‘What if something comes up?’ Even though you’ve done nothing wrong.”

Her appointment was finally scheduled for July 1, 2017, and Fernandez passed her citizenship test with flying colors – 100 percent. Last Thursday she joined nearly 60 other applicants from 30 different countries in a naturalization ceremony and traded her green card in for citizenship.

“Some people were crying at the ceremony,” Fernandez said. “It’s that feeling of, ‘Maybe now I can sponsor for my family.'”

Fernandez has plans of her own – she hopes her new citizenship will make it easier to find a job, and her dream is to eventually open up her own salon – but one of her first concerns is taking over Valente’s petition to get their mother to the U.S. She was told to wait 10 days for all her paperwork to go through, but once those 10 days are up, Fernandez said she’ll be back in Ortiz’s office.

“They said I could pick up where he left off,” Fernandez said.

The end of the long journey to receive her citizenship is somewhat bittersweet since Valente wasn’t there to see it.

“It was a happy time for me, but also sad because he was missing,” Fernandez said. “But I know he wanted to be there. My friend said, ‘I know he was watching over you.'”

One Response to “Becoming an American: Decatur woman celebrates new citizenship”

  1. El Pulpo says:

    Congratulations! I wish her success in all her endeavors!

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