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U.S. CITIZENSHIP: Christopher's Legacy to his Children

A FAMILY OF AMERICAN CITIZENS. (From L-R) Immigration Lawyer Atty. Michael J. Gurfinkel with multi-awarded actor Christopher de Leon and his children Maria Michaela, Juan Carlos Miguel, Augusto Gabriel, and Maria Angelica in Los Angeles, California. After Atty. Gurfinkel helped Christopher obtain "instant" US citizenship, he helped Christopher's children also get US citizenship without any family petition. The actor thanked Atty. Gurfinkel for these new doors of opportunity for his children, should they wish to study or eventually settle down in America.

IF you ask multi-awarded actor and television personality Christopher de Leon what drives him to continue improving his craft, he'll tell you in a heartbeat that it's his children.

Christopher's colorful movie career had brought him countless accolades and recognition; not to mention fame and financial security. This hands-on father believes however, that show business is a fickle industry.

"You could be here today and gone tomorrow," he says in spite his stature as one of the country's most sought after leading men, dramatic actors and television hosts.

Like any other father, Christopher is greatly concerned about the quality of life his children will lead. His goal is to be able to give them a rock-solid foundation for the future-a life that they can be proud of long after the deafening applause for their famous dad has died down.

Yes, Christopher and his equally-talented wife, fellow actor Sandy Andolong, are working hard on the future paths of their five children. Blessed with three sons and two daughters, the couple envisions not just stable professional careers for them, but jobs that will showcase their individuality, hone their talents and skills and make them proud of who they are.

"We want our children to realize their personal dreams. Whatever field or endeavor they want to get into, we will support them-even if it means going abroad to study or eventually settling down there" Christopher says, noting that his eldest son Rafael, has already expressed plans of being a cartoonist or animator, like the famous Walt Disney.

He admits that it was his son's childhood dream that drove him to pursue his much-publicized American citizenship case in 1999.

At that time, Christopher approached top immigration lawyer Attorney Michael J. Gurfinkel to ask about the possibility of obtaining for him a US green card as an "alien of extraordinary ability" like that of fellow FAMAS awardee Gina Alajar. But Atty. Gurfinkel, known for looking at every possible angle of each case, declared that Christopher had a fighting chance of obtaining an actual US citizenship because his maternal grandfather, Abe Strauss, was a naturalized American.

Several months later, an excited Christopher made an overseas call to his US-based mother, Lilia Dizon, announcing that he has just walked out of the US Embassy in Manila with a Certificate of Citizenship. Thanks to Atty. Gurfinkel's help, the actor was granted instant US citizenship, meaning he is a US citizen by birth. He did not need to be petitioned, apply for naturalization, or answer any questions about U.S. history.

But that's not where the story ends.

A firm believer in Divine intervention, Christopher says his meeting Atty. Gurfinkel and acquiring American Citizenship happened for a reason. He shares that this was God's way of throwing the windows of opportunity wide open for his children, should they wish to go to America.

He then asked Atty. Gurfinkel to work on Rafael's case next. Being the eldest, Rafael was very excited about coming to the US. Sure, he and his siblings had been in there before as tourists, but pursuing higher education in New York had always been Rafael's dream--one that the de Leon family have supported all these years.

As difficult as the case was due to the fact that Christopher never actually lived in the US, Atty. Gurfinkel did not easily give up. The top immigration lawyer resorted to a little-known law allowing acquisition of citizenship through a grandparent. Based on this provision, Atty. Gurfinkel argued that Rafael's grandmother, Lilia Dizon, who was also a US citizen by birth, met the residency requirement. Thus, Rafael was also entitled to instant US citizenship.

Barely a week before his 18th birthday, Rafael Sandino de Leon emerged from the USCIS office in Los Angeles with a Certificate of Citizenship. Escorted by his beaming father Christopher, Rafael basked in having reclaimed his birthright-American citizenship.

That was in January 2001. On May 22, 2003, Atty. Michael Gurfinkel did what others thought was unthinkable. Christopher's remaining four younger children all received their Certificate of Citizenship. Yes, in one sweep, Juan Carlos Miguel, 17; Augusto Gabriel, 13; Maria Angelica, 10; and Maria Michaela, 6, also became "instant" US citizens. They never had to be petitioned, they never had to wait for many years.

Christopher, a bit emotional from the experience, profusely thanked Atty. Gurfinkel for his help.

"Thank you for being God's instrument, you have no idea how much you have changed our lives. Not only am I impressed by your hard work and skill, but I am also amazed at how you treat your clients. We appreciate you accomplishing seemingly impossible things, for always knowing what to do, and for being totally honest with us all the time. Most of all, you have been such a good friend to us all these years. From the beginning to the end, you fought the battle for me and my children. We can't thank you enough," he said.

Christopher never knew that his greatest legacy to his children will be his American bloodline. Apart from the name, the talent, and the popularity, their US citizenship will be something that all five of them will carry all their lives-and even possibly pass on to their own children.

Their US citizenship is a testament of his love for them and how hard he works for their dreams to come true. Christopher wants their citizenship to serve also as a testament to Atty. Michael Gurfinkel's skill as an immigration lawyer, and a memento of the friendship and bonds their families now share.