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A young person’s path to citizenship

February 15, 2022

Timoteo Vasquez-Mendez left his home in Guatemala, fleeing difficult conditions in his country, and traveled to the United States in search of a better future. He was stopped by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as he tried to cross the border. He was first sent to a detention center in New York, then released to stay with his uncle Jesus Vasquez in San Rafael. He was 17 years old.   

Timoteo Vasquez-Mendez standing next to a creek.
Timoteo Vasquez-Mendez

Timoteo, now 25, is working as a carpenter and recently became a U.S. citizen. “I feel safer to be in this country,” he says. “I am thankful to have this opportunity.”   

When he arrived in San Rafael, Timoteo was connected to Canal Alliance by his uncle. He first received support from the Immigration Legal Services team, led by Managing Attorney Joana Castro Simonini, and gained permanent residency in July 2015. “Last year, 142 of our youth clients became legal permanent residents and in 2026 they will be eligible for citizenship,” notes Ms. Castro Simonini.  “Hopefully, we will be supporting their naturalization process as well.” 

Over the years, Timoteo took advantage of every opportunity available to him to advance his education. He signed up for Canal Alliance English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, starting at level 50 (beginner) and moving through level 500 (advanced), after which he went to study English at College of Marin, where he is currently enrolled.  

Once he gained language proficiency, Timoteo joined the Canal Alliance Workforce Development Program, completing the Construction Certification course in 2018 and launching a professional career as a carpenter. “Timoteo was a wonderful student – always positive and with a perfect attendance record,” reflects Regina Vindel, Workforce Career Supervisor.  

When he took the steps to become a US citizen, Timoteo received legal and educational support through the naturalization process, which includes an application and tests in civics and English. He became a US citizen in September 2021, reflecting that “none of this would have been possible without Canal Alliance. They helped me from the first step all the way to my citizenship.  

“More than anything I am thankful to God for giving me the opportunity to become a citizen in this country. To the community I want to say, please don’t ever lose hope. Everything will be okay and with God nothing is impossible.” 

The staff at Canal Alliance, who work in partnership to support the diverse needs of immigrant youth, congratulate Timoteo.  As Joana Castro Simonini notes: “It is an amazing feeling to be able to serve our clients from the beginning of their cases when they first arrived in this country – and everything was so strange and unknown to them – until they achieve the ultimate immigration goal of becoming U.S.  citizens and are able to fully participate and contribute to the community.”    

Joana Castro Simonini, Managing Attorney, meets with a client at Canal Alliance
Read more posts in: Client Story, Citizenship, Immigration

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