by Jane Villanueva, Legal Assistant at Seifert Law Offices.

Jane Villanueva

It’s exciting and rewarding to work at Seifert Law Offices where we provide immigration legal services! It gives us the opportunity to meet so many people from various countries who desire to attain status in the United States. Recently I read about just such a person in The Northwest Catholic who succeeded at acquiring legal U.S. status and then took steps to give back to his native community.

Mateo Santiago is originally from Guatemala and now lives in Western Washington. He is the second oldest child in his family and decided to come to the U.S. to help support his family because of the poverty they suffered. Just like so many people our office works with, he came through Mexico riding “La Bestia” to find opportunity in the United States. He was only 18 years old and rode with others on top of a freight car for thousands of miles through the most dangerous train networks. Along the journey, he was robbed by criminals and also police who were waiting for them at stops along the journey. It took him three tries, but he finally crossed the border into the United States. It would be 17 years before he saw his family again. From my work at Seifert Law Offices, I see this all of the time. Crossing the border into the United States can often mean immigrants separated from their families and loved ones back home for many years, or indefinitely.

Mateo worked where ever he could to support himself and send funds back to his family. He became an active member of his local Catholic parish after struggling with loneliness and sadness and was able to connect with other Guatemalans. He eventually earned his GED and then his associate’s degree, obtained a green card, was hired as an interpreter, and now serves as the coordinator of Hispanic Ministry in his parish. He is able to advocate for fellow parishioners because he is tri-lingual, speaking English, Spanish and Q’anjob’al, his native Mayan language. At 37 years old, after a long overdue trip back to Guatemala to visit his family, he was moved to start efforts in his parish to help the members of his Guatemalan community after seeing the poverty that still prevailed. Along with the help of other young adult members of his parish, he began raising funds to purchase a generator and building materials for a school in a small rural village. Another project provided 15 computers for three schools. His future project is to purchase land so outdoor bathrooms can be built at the school in his native community.

Mateo’s enthusiasm to give back to his Guatemalan community has inspired other Catholic parishes including St. Michael Parish here in Olympia (of which I am a member) to begin efforts to help Mateo with other projects. As he says, and I agree, “Life has been so great, and I feel so blessed, I just do what I think is good. I’m doing it because I like it—I don’t want anything in reward.” Through my work at Seifert Law Offices, I am able to do what I think is good. I help people obtain legal status so they can continue their dreams of improving their lives, and maybe even give back to their communities back home.

(Adapted from the Northwest Catholic, a publication of the Archdiocese of Seattle.)