Earlier this month, Catholic Charities migration counselor Kerly Coyman was naturalized as a United States citizen.
Kerly was born in Honduras and came to the U.S. at the age of 14. Undocumented as a teenager, Kerly was eventually approved for a green card. This enabled Kerly to continue her education and eventually start a career working to help others in her position. This was also the first step in Kerly’s naturalization journey.
After graduating college, Kerly’s main focus was, “finding a career where I could help others.” Catholic Charities was the perfect fit, she says. Kerly now works as a migration counselor in Catholic Charities’ Opportunity Center in Poughkeepsie, which is funded by the NYS Office for New Americans . In her position, she works with Catholic Charities attorneys and accredited representatives to help other immigrants apply for citizenship, D.A.C.A, and other programs. Kerly assists clients each day free-of-charge in preparing applications, preparing for their citizenship interviews, and studying for the citizenship exam. She is able to draw from her own experience when working with her clients, as she has been going through the process of applying for citizenship herself recently.
In early April of this year, Kerly journeyed to Albany for her own naturalization ceremony. She had been waiting for years for this moment, but because of the COIVD-19 pandemic and the state’s safety guidelines, Kerly was unable to have her family with her at the ceremony. Kerly was not alone at her citizenship ceremony, however. On the day of the ceremony, Kerly realized two of the clients she had assisted through her work at Catholic Charities were also becoming citizens that day. Both of her clients at the event were surprised to see Kerly there, as she had kept her own citizenship journey from them, but were happy to have her by their side. Kerly was also happy to share this major milestone with her clients
“I would not have been able to apply for citizenship myself if I did not have the knowledge I learned working at Catholic Charities,” Kerly says. Naturalization is the final step of the immigration process for many migrants, and it is a difficult and complex process for most of them. To naturalize, some people wait months or years after filing applications to be called in for an interview. Even Kerly was nervous for her interview, she says, despite her knowledge of the system and good standing in her community.
Kerly finds her work meaningful and fulfilling and knows that she is able to change lives. She noted that she wishes she had known about the services offered by Catholic Charities when she was an undocumented immigrant as a teenager. “When you love what you do, it is no longer a job,” Kerly says. “If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would continue working for Catholic Charities for free. Working with my clients is my passion, and I love what I do each day.”