GEORGETOWN — Daniel Cabañas Durán, a Cuban immigrant, doesn’t take for granted the privileges that come with being a U.S. citizen.
“I’m able to do things I was never going to be able to do in my own country, like enjoy freedom of speech, vote and decide my own future, and provide for my family,” he said at a recent ceremony that honored the journey of 36 new citizens from La Esperanza’s immigration program. Mr. Cabañas Durán, of Lewes, works as a software engineer.
More than 250 people, including U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long and state Rep. Ruth Briggs-King, gathered at La Esperanza’s inaugural citizenship celebration at Delaware Technical Community College in Georgetown.
“The process to become a citizen is not an easy one,” Sen. Carper said to the group. “It takes years of waiting, paperwork, studying and money, but you did it. You never gave up, and the day is finally here. Congratulations.”
Lt. Gov. Hall-Long noted that it takes strength to depart from the only home you’ve ever known — the lives, the loved ones — for a new start in the United States. Many escaped violence; others sought a better future.
“As you embarked on and completed this journey, you continued the historic legacy of so many immigrants that have come before you. It’s a legacy rooted in the founding of this great country and seeded throughout every major milestone of its history,” she said.
Delaware Tech campus president Bobbi Barends led a panel discussion with four of the citizens. Among them was TidalHealth physician Dr. Sandra Palavecino Acuña of Seaford. Political instability forced her and her family to leave Venezuela and settle in Chile. Later, she came to the United States.
“At times, the citizenship process felt like a part-time job,” she noted. Along her path, she also had to repeat her medical residency in the United States to fulfill medical board requirements.
Darvin Mérida Juárez left his homeland of Guatemala at age 15. He said he enjoyed his childhood there but reached a point at which he wanted more. Today, he owns a plumbing company in Georgetown.
Lizbeth Reyes Serrano, originally from Mexico, found a new calling in her new land. She aspires to help other women tackle immigration paperwork.
“Being a citizen of the United States has given me a new purpose: to be a better person,” said the Wilmington resident.
La Esperanza helps an estimated 600 people each year on their citizenship or residency journeys in multiple ways, including permissions to work and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals renewals, plus applications for temporary protected status and permanent residency.
La Esperanza, on Race Street in Georgetown, was born out of the compassion of Sisters Ascensión Banegas, Rosa Álvarez and María Mairlot, who came to Georgetown in the 1990s to help immigrants who were arriving in Delaware to work in the poultry plants.
The nuns, originally from Spain, witnessed the difficulties of immigrants in a new land and offered them hope and inspiration. Sister María, the sole surviving founder, sent a video message to the newest citizens from her home in Washington, D.C.
La Esperanza executive director Dr. Jennifer Fuqua said it had been a long time since the agency had been able to come together with friends, supporters and the community for a celebration and that “this is the best reason — to celebrate and recognize you — new citizens and your families.”
“We’re excited about the future,” she added, “and invite you to join with us as we serve the community and partner together to create a thriving Latino community where hope is fulfilled.”