“You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you: …love the alien as yourself: for you too were once aliens…” –Leviticus 19:33-34
Fear and anxiety have risen throughout immigrant communities in the U.S. under the current administration. The president’s January 25, 2017, executive order, commonly called “the travel ban,” [Update: the immoral separation of children and parents at the border, and the increasing threat that the president will build his wall by executive order] have all caused grave concerns for immigrant residents—authorized and unauthorized. Constant worry, excessive stress, and fear of deportation have had devastating effects on families and their health.
The Greater Aurora Area Literacy Coalition (GAAC) to which our Dominican Literacy Center (DLC) belongs, reports that the number of people seeking citizenship classes tripled last year, another consequence of the travel ban, they believe. At the start of second semester, DLC enrollment doubled, requiring Sisters Jane Ann Beckman, OP, and Kathleen Ryan, OP to add a class. The classes are held in St. Mary’s Parish Hall through the generosity of the pastor Father Tim Piasecki.
To address the pressing need for citizenship education, GAAC also offered an additional summer class in 2017. Sister Kathleen secured a $5,000 grant from the Dunham Foundation to cover expenses for study materials, instructor, and facility costs. Sister Jane Ann trained additional volunteers, and Alison Brzezinski, DLC tutoring program director, taught the Wednesday night class at Santori Public Library, Aurora. For its donation of a double conference room the Library Foundation received a donation from the grant.
Citizenship class prepares students for a 100-question test—entirely in English—covering U.S. geography, history, federal, and state government. A written answer is required for 35 questions. Sometimes the biggest challenge is not the test, but the Immigration officer administering it. Some rapidly ask questions, creating a grueling experience for the applicant, while others are patient, gentle, and kind. Questions are asked at the discretion of the administrator who may, at any time, decide the applicant’s English is insufficient and stop the test. After two failed attempts a new application must be submitted and a new application fee applied.
Once the students pass this last hurdle they often return to the Literacy Center, to encourage others preparing for citizenship. These exuberant U.S. citizens are profoundly grateful and no longer burdened by fear and anxiety.
This is an updated version of a story by Sister Geraldine Kemper, OP, which appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of JUST Words.
Follow the path to citizenship. What does it cost? Could you pass the test? Find out here.
Enter the United States with a six-month visa. A visitor/tourist visa does not grant a person a work permit. Before the person can legally work, expenses must be covered by family members.