CACTUS, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — According to the 2020 Census, Cactus boasts a population of 3,252 people and over 50% are immigrants.
With a need to provide immigration services for people in the city, Cactus Nazarene Ministry began offering immigration services in 2021. Helping people earn citizenship, find job opportunities, housing, education, and improve the overall quality of life and reunite families.
Denise Anderson, coordinator for immigration services has a background in social work as well as missionary work and now serves as a volunteer for their immigration ministry.
“I’m very passionate about helping people,” said Anderson. “I’m very passionate about social justice and my personal experiences being an immigrant I know, it’s difficult to be in another country, and not know what process what I need to do.”
One of the most rewarding parts of Cactus Nazarene immigration ministries is making the VISA and green card process easier.
“We can let them know like how to fill out the applications when they’re doing it and also prepare them for their citizenship interviews,” stated Anderson. “When people apply to become US citizens, there’s usually a pretty long wait, they apply, and it can be anywhere from three months to two years until they get their interview.”
During the interview, applicants will be asked ten questions that come from a list of 100 questions. Immigration services offers study classes to help prepare.
One of the many people that Cactus Nazarenes Immigration services has helped is Afeworki Abraham.
Abraham came to the United States 15 years ago as a refugee from Ethiopia. Two years ago, he was granted U.S. citizenship.
Abraham made the decision to come to the U.S. for one main reason. Freedom.
“Freedom, I will never have freedom in my country I have freedom now,” explained Abraham. “That’s what I came here.”
Abraham made the decision to leave his wife and daughter in Ethiopia so that he would be able to establish himself and bring his family to the states.
When Abraham first came to the US he was living in Dallas, Texas. Although he has a college degree from his home country, he shared that coming to the states and adjusting was a challenge. Most notably the language barrier and lack of community with people from similar backgrounds.
“I was stressed out because I have to speak, everybody speaks English, explained Abraham. “And then when I come here to Dallas my caseworker, they put me with different people. I don’t find my people of the area.”
Now that Abraham is a citizen and has a steady job and is in the process of building a home, his wife and child have started their citizenship. process. He shared why it was so important to bring them to the U.S.
“Even now, my wife and my kids, they don’t have freedom,” explained Abraham. “They fight each other in Ethiopia. War is everywhere, so many people die every day. I need freedom, for my wife and my kids.”
Family reunification is one service that Cactus offers. For some, the path to citizenship becomes easier once their spouse becomes a legal citizen.
“You have to submit one application that established for each person that establishes, we are legally married, and this is my legal daughter, explained Anderson.
After the paperwork is filed establishing the relationship they’ll work with the Department of State and undergo a background check along with other requirements. If the application is approved, then applicants are granted an interview.
Cactus Nazarene immigration services also offers an after-school program for kids in Cactus Elementary School. This allows parents to work extra hours as well as help children with their homework and better understand English.
“We also offer all summer long offer day camps for the kids,” said Anderson. “So, it gives them something to do it keeps them safe. We give a nourishing snack, we play, we do art, but we also help them with English and help them to not lose the ground that they need for the whole year.”
Before Cactus Nazarene started offering these services Anderson said that the Cactus Elementary principal said there was a lot of regression in speaking English, for children whose parents speak another language during the summer months.
Cactus Nazarene offers adult English programs Monday through Thursday, with about six different classes happening throughout the course of the day. One aspect of the class that Anderson enjoys is when people see they have more in common than they think.
“One of the things we’ve seen this last year is how someone from you know different countries speaking different languages how much they can realize wow, we have something in common,” stated Anderson. “We might look different, we might have a different language, we might have different cultures. But we’re all here.”
People that come through Cactus’s immigration services often have different needs and goals. While some come to the U.S. as refugees, others come seeking asylum.
According to Anderson, there are adjustment and settlement programs across the U.S. and Amarillo is one of them. During the adjustment and settlement program refugees have assistance obtaining a driver’s license, job and other items to be successful in their new country.
After a year in the U.S., refugees are able to apply for their Green Card, which makes them lawful permanent residents. Green cards must be renewed every 10 years, according to U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Cactus Nazarene also provides services to people seeking asylum. Those seeking asylum must petition as to why they should be granted asylum. If asylum is granted, they begin the green card process to have permanent residency in the U.S.
In some cases, a U.S. citizen can petition for their relative to come to the U.S.
“It’s called family reunification, there’s a lot of different processes for that and that can be a pretty long process,” stated Anderson. “There’s a wait after that’s established to apply for the person to be able to come. If a person is already in the US and there and that process is done, it’s a little bit faster.
An aspect of immigration that Cactus Nazarene immigration services deals with firsthand is people coming to the U.S. undocumented and under false pretenses that they are legally entering the country.
Anderson continued “one of the things that we’re seeing, very sadly a lot of is people who are brought here, thinking they’re coming legally. They’ve paid up to $15,000, to someone expecting that they’re coming here to get a good job and to work legally. But when they get here, they’re told, you still owe me money and so until you pay me, I won’t give you your paperwork. But in many cases, there is no paperwork. It’s a form of trafficking.”
Anderson shared that during that process people are victimized in the United States, sometimes physically or sexually. When this happens there is a special VISA for the victim.
“If that happens in the United States, then they are eligible for a special kind of a visa if they’re willing to cooperate to with the law enforcement to be able to convict the person who was the one who victimized them,” said Anderson.
Although Cactus Nazarene has specific services, they like to think of themselves as a one-stop shop.
“We help people apply for Social Security benefits for Medicaid,” said Anderson. “We help them apply for food stamps, if they need them, we help them we let them know also what those resources are.”