Immigration counselors say God guides their work

Carlos Lascano reviews paperwork with immigration counselor Karina Garnica in the immigration offices at the Diocese of Davenport.

By Anne Marie Amacher

(The Catholic Messenger is highlighting various programs and ministries offered through the Diocese of Davenport’s Catholic Charities. This is the fourth in a series of stories.)

Because of demand for immigration services related to family reunification, adjustment of status, citizenship and other issues, an appointment-only system has been established in the Davenport Diocese’s Immigration office in Davenport and its satellite offices in Ottumwa and Columbus Junction.

The immigration department has been a part of the diocese for decades and now is a program of Catholic Charities.


Immigration counselors Gricelda Garnica and Karina Garnica have been certified through the Board of Immigration Appeals. Without such certification, “we could not sign forms representing our clients. We could not apply on behalf of our clients for immigration,” Gricelda said.

Immigrants in the diocese needing help have few other options: visiting a part-time certified representative in Muscatine, hiring a private attorney certified to handle immigration cases, or traveling to Chicago for immigration services.

The immigration department in the Davenport Diocese offers the following services: naturalization, certificate for citizenship, family-based petitions, replacement/renewal of permanent resident cards, tourist visa invitations, removal of conditional cards, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) status inquiries, adjustment of status, fiancé(e) visas, V-visa extensions, consular processing, immigrant visas, temporary protective status, employment authorization, travel documents, and resources and referrals.

Gricelda said the department does not handle cases involving requests for asylum or for refugees.

Completing the process for naturalization, permanent legal residence and citizenship, among other status issues, varies time-wise. It can take years for an immigrant’s status to be approved.

Another part of the counselors’ job is providing education. One example is letting people who are undocumented know they do have rights in the U.S. “Many are abused by their employers and are fearful that they will be sent back to their home country if they stand up for their rights. They are afraid.

“You would be surprised how many take advantage of these people,” Gricelda said.

The majority of clients come from Mexico and Central America. But the two immigration counselors also work with people from Spain, Macedonia, Canada, Africa and other countries, assisting about 400 people each year.

Striving to accommodate the growing need for services, the counselors switched to an appointment-only schedule because drop-in clients created a backlog and there is no an administrative assisstant. The counselors also need to set aside time for ongoing training and must be re-certified every three years.

Gricelda said counselors also are required to attend conferences, some of which require in-person training. Some can be done online or through teleconferences. In addition to learning about the changes in laws and updates in the immigration system, the conferences create opportunities for the counselors to network with others. “You never know when you might need to call someone for help.”

She said the hardest part of her job is not being able to help someone who wants help. But the most rewarding is to see someone who really struggled and finally reached his or her ultimate goal. “There are a few who are very thankful and call back after they have gotten their citizenship (or other assistance) to thank us. It makes you feel good.”

“We do what we need to do, but it is God who helps too,” Gricelda added. “I’m not an angel (as a client has nicknamed her and Karina). We are just human beings doing what we need to do with the help of God.”

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