Forum answers array of immigrants' questions

Posted: Friday, April 08, 2005

A state immigration officer conducted Juneau's first-ever immigrant-assistance forum Thursday in what officials said could be a precursor to monthly visits from Anchorage.

The event attracted two dozen people who wanted to talk to someone in person about their cases.

Among them were Philip Subeldia, who didn't know how to cancel a VISA application for his former fiancée in the Philippines. Harold White wondered when his Filipino wife can apply for citizenship. After 20 years of waiting, Teresita Frisbee wanted to know when her sister can gain permanent residence in the United States.

Every year, thousands of immigrants come to Alaska. In 2004, 726 Alaskans became naturalized U.S. citizens. Among them, 25 were from Southeast Alaska.

The forum was held by the citizenship assistance office under Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

"The needs and questions are so varied that only an immigration officer can help them," said Cheryl Adamson, project coordinator of the citizenship assistance office. "People feel more comfortable when they can talk to someone face-to-face."

Because about 65 percent of immigration cases happen in Southcentral Alaska, an immigration officer flies to Juneau from Anchorage twice a year to take fingerprints and conduct citizenship interviews.

Joohoon David Lee, district adjudication officer of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said he has conducted citizenship interviews with 70 people this week. These interviewees came from Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island and other surrounding Southeast Alaska communities.

"We are trying to get another immigration officer who can fly to Juneau monthly," Lee said.

Immigration resources

Citizenship preparation classes:

Time: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, from April 4 to May 18.

Place: St. Vincent de Paul, 8619 Teal St.

Contact: Sebastian Lilienthal, 463-6188.

Citizenship assistance:

Contact Cheryl Adamson of citizenship assistance office under the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Phone: 465-5675 or (800) 770-5872.

U.S. Customs and Immigration Services:

http://uscis.org

In his presentation, Lee explained that the Immigration and Naturalization Office was broken into three offices under the Department of Homeland Security after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He also explained how people could download immigration forms from the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services' Web site.

Juneau resident Harold White said Lee's presentation was helpful.

"He has first-hand knowledge," White, 38, said.

White said he had received wrong information from a woman working in the U.S. Customs office and applied too early for his wife's citizenship. They ended up losing the application fee and have to apply again.

From his talk with Lee, he realized that his wife has to get her citizenship before going back to the Philippines to attend a nursing school. "She will have to reestablish her residency if she doesn't get her citizenship," White said.

Although many consider citizenship a private matter, those who attended the forum shared their personal experience with other people.

Subeldia broke up with his fiancee after applying for her VISA to the United States. Lee told Subeldia that if she gets the VISA, she will have to marry him within 90 days after her arrival; otherwise, she will have to leave the country.

Lee, who kept asking people whether they considered it appropriate to talk about their personal matters in public, answered everyone's questions patiently.

"My father immigrated from Korea and it took him a long time to petition my grandmother to come to the United States," Lee said. "I understand their frustrations and try to be as patient as I can."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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