One Community Helping One of Its Own
By: J. Slade
Opening Doors International Service began as a mission of Trinity Presbyterian Church in 1999 when a member of the church, Ed P., who was a legal permanent resident, was detained by immigration officials. At the time of his immigration detention, he was in his thirties, working hard, attending church, married and a father, and focused on raising his family. He had decided after decades of being a legal permanent resident, it was time to naturalize. All of his family – parents, siblings, wife and kids – were already citizens, and so he began the process himself.
It seemed pretty straight-forward.
He filed the papers on his own.
But he misunderstood one question.
You see, Ed had served probation when he was a teenager. He remembered being told his record had been expunged once he finished his court-ordered probation, so answered “no” to a question about crimes. He thought this one teen-age mistake had been removed from his record, and that he should not report it on the immigration forms.
For this, immigration detained him and placed him in deportation proceedings. Trinity rallied around him! Because of the many connections members had with the press, with Dick Armey, with the greater Presbyterian Church and because of a good immigration lawyer, he was released and was able to fight to become a US citizen.
The mission committee at Trinity had been searching for a project that would be an outreach to the growing immigrant community in Denton, and after seeing what could happen to a good man like him, the idea of providing immigration services called to them. At the time, there were no authorized immigration representatives or even an immigration attorney in our area, and the need was great! They discovered the Board of Immigration Appeals Recognition Program offered by the Department of Justice which would give them authority to provide legal immigration services in Denton, and they jumped in.
Not only did the agency itself have to meet rigorous standards to become DOJ Recognized, but individuals also had to receive in-depth training and become accredited by the Department of Justice themselves in order to be authorized to practice immigration law. One cannot operate without the other, so Trinity members Sue Thomson and Rev. Bob Hanson invested their own time and money to travel to trainings and learn immigration law, and became accredited immigration counselors. Both the agency application for recognition and their individual applications were approved, and Opening Doors literally opened its doors in 2000 with Sue and Bob volunteering their knowledge, time and services to help immigrants in our community become citizens.
Bob has said that back then, they would meet to decide which single case they could accept that week. From one community helping one of its own, to a few volunteers helping a few people each month, to a county-wide agency that has served thousands since it's inception, Opening Doors International has grown into a vital agency that serves the needs of Denton County and all of Texas.