A.L.’s Citizenship and the Road to Independence

Oct 31
Sarah Cummings, Program Director
Dungarvin Nevada

My name is Sarah Cummings. I have proudly served as a Program Director for Dungarvin since July 2010. Having previously worked as a Resource Coordinator for the local Community Center board, The Resource Exchange (TRE), I was familiar with the Missions and Values that Dungarvin represents. I was honored to become part of an organization that dedicates itself to not only providing services, but also enriching the quality of life for those with whom we serve. As I began to acclimate to my new environment, and started to better comprehend my caseload, I quickly realized that one case in particular was far different than that of anyone else my experience had previously shown me.

For many US citizens, it is often taken for granted all of the benefits and privileges that our beautiful country has to offer such as freedom, liberty and access to resources that some other countries could never imagine. One such resource allocated to US citizens is the funding that is received by the persons we serve through the Medicaid Waiver. However, for those who do not hold US citizen status this resource is unattainable. And, so it appeared, in the case of A.L.

As a consumer of Dungarvin services, A.L. did not at first appear to be that divergent to other cases that I had seen. With a functioning IQ of 41 A.L., as many others, suffered abuse and neglect as a result of her developmental disability. Due to the sexual, physical and physiological abuse A.L. received from her parents she, along with her three siblings, was placed into the foster care system and became a ward of the State of Colorado; she was 16. Unlike the others on my caseload, I noticed that that A.L. was receiving funding under a “State” plan while everyone else received funding through a Medicaid Waiver. Where others had Medicaid and Social Security Income, she did not.

Having been entered into the foster system, A.L. was fortunate to have been placed into a very caring home that wanted to adopt her and her three siblings. However, she was unable to be adopted because, having been the only one of the four children that had been born in Mexico, she was not a U.S citizen. Regrettably, A.L. fell through the cracks of the system and no one ever applied for her U.S. Citizenship. She aged out into the adult system as an illegal immigrant with a disability, unable to work or live without support. Yet, her case manager at the time was able to file for Residency which allowed her access to minimal resources. Thankfully, A.L. was admitted into Dungarvin where all of her expenses were paid for.

Though not an ideal situation, through the State plan, A.L. was able to access some resources due to her newly found Dungarvin family, as well as her Day Program through Mosaic. Sadly, in October 2010, she received a letter informing her that a ruling was made to terminate all State plans.  A.L. had no natural supports and was fully dependent on paid providers to assist her in all aspects of her daily living. Without the State plan, she was going to be homeless and without any services in 30 days.
In an attempt to appeal this decision, I sat in front of David Erving, Executive Director of The Resource Exchange and my previous supervisor. In conjunction with never having filed an appeal before, intimidation was an understatement but the necessity to help A.L. outweighed my personal trepidations. I explained the risk that she was in and advocated with every ounce of my heart. Regardless, as understanding as he was, he simply told me, “The services are just no longer available.” With this decision in place, and the risk it caused to A.L., her lack of citizenship could no longer be ignored. Fortunately I knew, due to my previous experience, that she still had the right to appeal at every level.  If this decision continued in the appeal process, the services she currently had would continue until a decision was reached. Immigration law requires a person to be a resident for five years to be eligible for Citizenship. And, as luck would have it, A.L. would be eligible to apply for citizenship April 2011; a mere 6 months away.

For the first time since I entered the Social Service field, I was ECSTATIC about the slow paper process! Each appeal allowed A.L. 30 days to submit her next appeal; and I made sure to wait until the deadline to file each and every appeal in an attempt to bide as much time as I could.  With each appeal we were met with the same response…. “Sorry, but the State Plan is no longer available.” Though each denied appeal brought disappointment, we continued to be hopeful as we were getting closer and closer to the date A.L. was eligible to apply for Citizenship.  The final appeal was submitted to the Department of Human Service (DHS) along with a letter to Governor Hickenlooper. Two months went by with no word but, also, no denial letter. The funding continued and A.L. remained under the State plan.

April arrived and on A.L.’s behalf, I submitted an application for citizenship to the U.S.

Applying for citizenship presented continued barriers and was an excruciatingly frustrating process. With time against us, A.L. went to three separate interviews, one in which she had to take the Citizenship test. Though I was allowed to sit in with her, because she was scared, she got all the questions wrong but one: “Who is the president of the United States?” A.L. quickly answers in an excited voice “OBAMA!!” I couldn’t help but smile. Continually optimistic, as she and I were leaving the test she stated, “Man, that test was hard-but at least I got one!” I was so very proud of her. Such a frightening process and yet, A.L. was still her happy, positive self. I was quickly reminded of how much I love this field and what makes the struggles worth it.

On December 20th 2011, A.L. received her citizenship.  With help from Carra Davidson (Benefits Coordinator), we applied for Medicaid and Social Security. A.L. started receiving full Comprehensive Medicaid Services on 2/1/2012. Through all of the difficulties that were faced, she was able to continue living in her Host Home (6 years) and attending the same day program (7 years).  As a US Citizen, A.L. continues to increase her independence every day. The support she receives allows her to carry on, reaching her fullest potential. Through diligence, fortitude, and a little bit of luck, we were able to overcome a barrier that seemed insurmountable. Just another reminder of the power that comes from enriching the quality of life for those with whom we serve.

God Bless America.

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