Jenifer Montanez had no idea she was entitled to U.S. citizenship until last year when she was desperately trying to get government permission to visit her ailing grandparents in Mexico City.
Guadalajara native Florencia Label passed the naturalization test and was sworn in as a U.S. citizen in December at the age of 60 despite having spent most of her life in Mexico and speaking limited English.
Both achievements resulted largely from the assistance provided through the North County Immigration & Citizenship Center. It is located at the Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, 120 Stevens Ave.
“I am very glad this program is available for us and to advise us on which way to go because sometimes we don’t know,” said Montanez, an emergency room nurse at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside.
The 37-year-old San Marcos resident had renewed her legal residency card several times after her mother brought her to the U.S. while she was a teenager.
Faced with the urgency of returning to Mexico City to visit her grandparents while they were still alive, she applied for a Mexican passport, while also going to the Solana Beach center for help, based on a friend’s suggestion.
There, she discovered she already qualified for citizenship, since her mother had become naturalized while Jenifer was under 18.
The same day that her passport application was denied, Montanez said, a representative from the Solana Beach site notified her that the U.S. government officially recognized her citizenship.
“I wouldn’t have known,” Montanez said. “It would never have crossed my mind that I was a U.S. citizen. I would not know to go that route and I would not have been recognized as a citizen.”