The path toward citizenship for some is a costly and daunting process that takes years to reach the finish line — the naturalization ceremony. One local couple was looking forward to that ceremony, but it’s currently on hold due to the coronavirus.
The occasion had been scheduled to take place in Louisville in March, but it was postponed it and some immigration services were stalled — leaves Leonardo Mazariegos’ citizenship in limbo until an indefinite date.
“We’re just kind of waiting,” his wife Katie Mischel Mazariegos said. “It stinks because he waited 10-plus years for it. It was definitely a letdown for him because two weeks before it happened, they cancelled it. He was so close.”
The couple must wait longer for Leonardo to become a naturalized citizen and receive all the benefits that come with thath, such as the right to vote and the freedom to travel overseas with an American passport.
Until Leonardo takes the Oath of Allegiance and receives his certificate, local immigration attorney Susan Montalvo-Gesser said he’s classified as a legal permanent resident.
Montalvo-Gesser said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services should process services on a backlog whenever it reopens, meaning it will be first-come, first-served. USCIS has also issued guidelines for a grace period on work permits that expires during the pandemic period, she said.
“People who are used to dealing with immigration are used to dealing with unpredictability on wait times anyways,” she said. “It’s not ever well-processed.”
The USCIS offices in Louisville have been closed to the public since March 18 to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
Typically hundreds of people gather in one room for the naturalization ceremony.
“He didn’t really want to be in that situation either as much as he wanted his citizenship,” Katie said, adding she hopes USCIS will come up with an alternative solution whether it be online or one-on-one.
She said it has been a long process for the married couple, who have had to jump through numerous hoops for Leonardo to even be eligible to apply for citizenship.
“I’m worried the longer they put it on hold, the more people they’re going to have to catch up,” she said. “So I’m really hoping they find a solution soon. We’ll see how it plays out.”