Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

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Citizens at Last

Annabelle and her husband Emilio Santos were among the approximately 4,500 immigrants who became citizens at a naturalization ceremony in April at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

During the ceremony, a hum of excitement permeated the convention hall as the thousands of immigrants, along with their friends and family members, proudly listened to the presiding judge.   The crowd erupted in applause after the judge welcomed them as new citizens of the United States.

Annabelle and Emilio were still beaming in the lobby outside the hall, holding onto their new certificates and miniature flags.

“It’s overwhelming,’’ Annabelle said. “Finally.”

The couple, who have lived in the United States for 18 years, came to the Asian Pacific American Legal Center for help in applying for citizenship.

Looking for better opportunities for their family, Emilio moved from the Philippines to the United States in 1994 after obtaining a work visa. Annabelle and two of their children – 8-year-old Raphael and 6-year-old Venice Anne – soon followed.

“At first, I didn’t want to come here,’’ Annabelle recalled. “I was a dentist back in the Philippines. But I wanted to be with my husband, so I left everything and went with my family.”

Soon after moving here, Annabelle became pregnant with their third child, Hilary, and stayed home to raise the children. At times, she missed the life she left behind.

“But then I would think of my children, and what they have here,’’ she said. “My kids would be educated in America.”

Indeed, the couple’s children have excelled at school.

Their 17-year-old daughter, Venice Anne is a high school senior, holds a 3.8 GPA, and plans to attend U.C. Davis to study sports medicine. Thanks to her parents, she automatically became a citizen through their naturalization. If she had turned 18 before they became citizens, she wouldn’t have been able to get citizenship automatically through her parents and would have had to apply separately. 

“It’s mind blowing to think I’m finally official. I’m American,’’ she said. “But I will never forget that I am 100 percent Filipino.”

Annabelle and Emilio now consider the United States their home. Annabelle works as a teaching assistant at a school that services children and adults with disabilities, and Emilio is a supervisor at a fabric distribution company. They own a home in Pasadena.

“Citizenship is a treasure no one can take away from you,” Annabelle said.

If you would like to become a U.S. citizen, or know someone who would, please contact APALC at 213-977-7500 x224.

Area of Work: 


Our helplines prioritize assistance to low-income persons in the following areas of law: discrimination, family, immigration, public benefits, employment, housing, and civil rights. 

English: 888.349.9695
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Our mission is to advocate for civil rights, provide legal services and education, and build coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders and to create a more equitable and harmonious society.