For The Dialog
Father Carlos Ochoa had double reason to celebrate this week as he turned 40 on March 15, marking his first birthday as an American citizen.
Seventeen days earlier, on Feb. 26, Father Ochoa had taken the oath of citizenship in Philadelphia to become a citizen of the United States.
“This is something I never expected” while growing up in the state of Michoacàn, Mexico, he said. “I think it is a gift of God.”
Father Ochoa, director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Wilmington and associate pastor at St. John-Holy Angels Parish in Newark, identified that gift as the set of circumstances that led him some 2,000 miles northwest from Michoacàn to Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Yet the gift carried a price tag and a tedious path to follow. Father Ochoa expressed concern for those not as fortunate as him, who are seeking legal residency and citizenship in the United States. Those with student or work visas — including the so-called “Dreamers” who were born outside the United States but were raised in the United States after their families entered without visas — must renew those visas on a continuing basis. That requires both money and time.
Father Ochoa’s road to citizenship — first receiving student visas, then permanent residency, and finally citizenship — cost almost $7,000. It took some nine years after he applied for permanent residency (a “green card”) to finish the naturalization process.
“I want people to know this is not an easy process,” he said. “There is no an open door to become a citizen, a resident [visa, or green card]. It is impossible for many to become residents or citizens, not only the time but also the documentation and the money.”
At the same time, he hopes his story will give hope to other immigrants, showing that it can be done, and encourage them to “never give up.” As a U.S. citizen, he wants to try to develop “a more welcoming attitude” toward people wanting to come to the United States.
The set of circumstances that led Father Ochoa to the Diocese of Wilmington began shortly after the start of the 21st century when Brother Chris Posch, a Franciscan friar who was then director of Hispanic Ministry, visited a seminary in Guadalajara, Mexico. He invited several seminarians to visit, including the future Father Ochoa.
In 2005 he came to the United States on a student permit and began working toward ordination as a priest of the Diocese of Wilmington, which sponsored him. He was ordained in 2009.
He received permanent residency in 2012, after a two-year period during which he said he could not travel outside the United States, then had to wait five years before he could apply for citizenship. That application was filed last spring; 11 months later, he took the oath as a citizen.
During the permanent residency process, especially, he had to file what he described as “mountains of paperwork” and produce documentation such as immunization and school records, among others. The residency process alone cost $6,000, he said. “That was just in my case. I’m sure it is more expensive for others.”
Still, citizenship is worth the effort and cost.
“I like to be here. I want to be here,” Father Ochoa said. “This is my home.”
For The Dialog