SAN ANTONIO - Arina Popovici is the first immigrant to be assisted by the Immigration Service and Aid Center (ISAAC) to obtain legal permanent residency within the United States. She never dreamed that she would have this opportunity in her lifetime, but with the help of the ISAAC Project, her dreams are finally coming true.
Seven years ago, Arina Popovici came to the United States from Italy as an international student. While her student visa expired, she did not want to go back to Italy because her family was already here. After residing in the US. for a couple of years, Arina married and was soon pregnant with her first child.
What started out as a loving relationship turned into a constant battle of mental and physical abuse. Along with having to care for and nurture her daughter, she also had to handle and work through her marriage that was falling apart. Arina left her husband and began to file for divorce, but the price of achieving that was more costly than she could afford, so she turned to ISAAC for help.
"I wish I could find and speak to women who are in the situation like I have been. I was lucky that I had my brother here, but there are people who have no one in this country," said Arina. "ISAAC can help!"
The ISAAC Project works with the dire need for quality immigration counseling and services. Many immigrants have fallen victim to 'notarios' and immigration consultants who capitalize on their lack of familiarity with the legal system.
Located in San Antonio, ISAAC is a collaborative ministry of Texas Baptists and Baptist University of the Americas that seeks to encourage and train churches in order to offer legal service ministries to their immigrant communities. They offer 40-hour Institutes on Basic Immigration Law every year in order to provide the training needed for those who wish to serve this way.
Six months passed by and Arina saved enough money to file for divorce. "It was a hard battle," said Arina. "It takes a lot of support and patience to go through all of this, but my main motivation was always my daughter."
While her case was pending, Arina received a Pell Grant and went back to school. After it was approved she went straight to Jesus Romero, ISAAC program coordinator, knowing he would know exactly what to do to help her.
"He pays attention to the details and works in timely manner," Arina said. "He helped me right away."
At ISAAC, they are intentional about providing an atmosphere of hospitality, care and a good listening attitude. They provide immigration information from a Christian perspective. Whether it is through personal visits, sermons, website information, newsletters, or social media, the staff at ISAAC helps on all platforms, issues, and topics.
"We don't just fill out immigration forms," said Romero. "We care about people who need legal help with an immigration process, we listen to their stories, we explore ways for them to get legal relief for their particular situations, and we legally represent them before the Department of Homeland Security in seeking legal immigration status."
ISAAC has helped two Texas Baptist groups become recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in the past year and a half. These groups have aided immigrants to become citizens, processed paperwork for visas, and, in some cases, even helped undocumented aliens to remain legally in the United States.
Juan Rangel, of Piedras Negras Coahuila Mexico, is another immigrant that has received help from ISAAC and is now waiting to take the oath to become an a citizen.
Juan came to the United States as a young boy to work as a farm laborer. At age 21, Juan found a home in Austin, Texas, where he married his wife. It was there that he first applied for citizenship in 1997, but he was denied.
Months went by, and Brother Leonel Flores was preaching at the church Juan and his wife attended, Emanual Baptist Church of Bastrop, Texas. After the service, Juan received a text message from Brother Flores inviting him to an immigration seminar at a church in Oak Hill, Texas.
"I had to work that day so I was not able to attend the seminar, but a few weeks later I texted him and asked for information about the seminar and how I could get in touch with the ISAAC program," said Juan. "It was that moment where my life would change forever."
"Praise be my Lord for putting me on the right path to citizenship with the help of the ISAAC program," said Rangel. "With the help and knowledge of Brother Jesus Romero and his staff, I passed my interview and I am now waiting to take the oath. I am very grateful for the help received from the ISAAC program!"
For more information on the ISAAC program, visit http://www.isaacproject.org/.