Diocese’s Immigration Office helps longtime U.S. resident earn citizenship
By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Canadian-born Daniel Woollacott could have applied to become a naturalized citizen at the age of 18. He just never got around to it.
He maintained a busy life as a legal permanent resident of the United States. He served in the Marines during the Vietnam War, worked as a carpenter and cared for his mother as she aged. His mother wanted him to become a citizen but doing so remained on his “to do” list. “He always said, ‘I’ll do it someday,’” recalled his sister, JoAnn Brown.
When their mother Laurel passed away suddenly of a heart attack in 2013, Daniel was heartbroken. He regretted the fact that his mother didn’t live to see him become a naturalized U.S. citizen. At the age of 60, he committed himself to earning citizenship in his mother’s honor.
What he soon realized, however, was that the process to becoming a citizen wasn’t particularly simple. After their mother’s death, JoAnn welcomed him into her home in Davenport. Money was tight and they estimated the overall cost toward obtaining citizenship to be about $1,000, including transportation to Des Moines for testing, documents and counsel.
“$1,000 might as well be like a million to us,” said Brown, a Certified Nursing Assistant.
The family first called the office of U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, for advice. The office staff referred the family to the Diocese of Davenport’s Immigration Office. Though the family is not Catholic, the Immigration Office welcomed them.
“We don’t discriminate based on age, religion or country,” said diocesan immigration counselor Karina Garnica. “Whoever knocks, our doors are open.”
The diocesan Immigration Office’s goal is to assist citizens and legal permanent residents in petitioning for their family members to join them, said office volunteer Glenn Leach. In Woollacott’s case, he needed financial assistance and counsel as he moved through the process.
Based on a number of factors, including his veteran status, the diocesan Immigration Office was able to waive its $280 counseling fee as well as the $680 fee for immigration papers. Through donated funds, the office provided him with bus fare and meals for the three times he needed to travel to Des Moines for testing.
On May 29, at the age of 62, Wollacott became a naturalized citizen. Members of the diocesan Immigration Office joined Woollacott’s sister and niece, Joyanna, at the U.S. District Court in Davenport to witness the naturalization ceremony.
The soft-spoken Woollacott maintained a stoic disposition throughout the ceremony, but broke into a smile as he walked up to his family and diocesan counselors after the ceremony. His sister, holding a picture of their mother and a disposable camera, beamed with pride. Woollacott embraced members of the diocesan Immigration Office as a gesture of gratitude. “I wouldn’t have been able to figure all this stuff out on my own,” he told The Catholic Messenger. “Everyone should know about what they do. They help a lot of people who need it.”
With thoughts of his mother’s wishes on his mind as he became a citizen, he said, “I know she’d be proud and happy.”