Cutting Through the Darkness

How education attorney Darcy Kriha helped a blind immigrant gain citizenship

Published in 2021 Illinois Super Lawyers Magazine

Darcy Kriha didn’t choose the law as much as she was called to it—literally, by Jean Dolores Schmidt.

Basketball fans in Chicago and beyond know “Sister Jean” as the much-loved chaplain of the Loyola University men’s team. Kriha, however, knew her long before that—as her academic adviser at Mundelein College (which later merged with Loyola) in the late 1980s, who provided hands-on guidance.

“Sister Jean knew I needed a little help because I was the first generation in my family to go to college,” remembers Kriha, 52. “She learned I was doing well in my political science classes, and she asked if I’d ever thought about law school. I was planning to be a school psychologist. Within the span of a week, she called me in. She had called several law schools and asked for their applications. She had typed out all the applications for me on her typewriter. She had them ready for me to sign.”

Kriha continues to be called. In early 2020, it was her television that did the beckoning. She had the local news on one Sunday morning as background fodder, and she was drawn in by a story about a 23-year-old green card holder from Mexico, Lucio Delgado, who had been denied U.S. naturalization after he had failed the reading part of his citizenship test because he is blind.

“I thought to myself, ‘That can’t be. I must have misheard it,’” Kriha remembers. “So I went to Channel 2’s website and watched it again. I was slack-jawed. He’s blind, and they did not have a Braille copy of the test for him; and, even worse, they didn’t read him the test. You can read the test out loud to a blind individual, and then they can answer. That’s a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Kriha sprang into action, taking on the case pro bono, despite not having experience in immigration law. She entered Delgado’s life at a point when he thought his options had run out.

“My expectations were very low, but when the reporter [from Channel 2] who interviewed me sent me Darcy’s contact information, I had nothing left to lose,” Delgado says. “From the first time we spoke, she was a very, very nice person. She came to our house [in Pembroke Township] and said she would help as much as she could.”

She wrote letters to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, activated the office of Sen. Tammy Duckworth, drove Delgado to the doctor, and paid for a medical report that would prove he was blind. Kriha did everything in her power to right what she viewed as a grievous wrong.

It paid off on March 13, 2020, when Delgado was given the test in Braille and then, after passing it, was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. The case vaulted Kriha into the national spotlight, but that’s not what she remembers about it.

“There were so many people in the community who supported him—people from all walks of life,” she says. “We live in such a divided time. The fact that this happened will stay with me forever. I was honored to have a front-row seat. Lucio and his family gave me more than I ever gave them. Truly, they helped to restore my faith in humanity.”

Kriha has done the same for Delgado.

“Darcy has the most golden heart I have ever seen in a person,” he says. “It’s almost impossible to believe there are such great people in the world. For me and my family, she was like a beam of light cutting through the thickest of darkness.”

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