Becoming Part of the American Tradition

The attainment of United States citizenship has never appeared to be such a dire requirement for immigrants and asylees than at the current moment. Our political climate precludes these vulnerable populations from depending on the protection of green cards from deportation; instead, many immigrants feel that acquiring U.S. citizenship alone will protect them from expulsion and separation from their families. And so, to honor the establishment of that very notion “United States citizenship,” we at Just Neighbors want to celebrate the recent achievement of citizenship by two of our clients. It bears mentioning that when asked why they sought U.S. citizenship, both of these individuals indicated fear of the current immigration crisis in America. They felt that citizenship offered the only true safety for their livelihoods.
The first of these clients is named Dina. She initially came to the U.S. from Brazil in 2008, and although she has a background in education and public relations, she started as an au pair after arriving. She now works as a nanny during the week and a language teacher on the weekends in order to support herself and her three-year-old daughter. However, in addition to her wariness of the current administration’s immigration policies, she wanted to secure a better job, and knew she had to become a naturalized citizen first. Thus, Dina came to Just Neighbors in August 2017 and, alongside our volunteers and legal staff, completed her citizenship application in October 2017. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) took her fingerprints the next month, and, over the following winter and spring, she studied hard for her citizenship exam and naturalization interview (the former tests written English skills and U.S. civics knowledge, while the latter tests spoken English skills and motivation for citizenship). Dina studied in all her spare moments, reviewing USCIS’s website for all pertinent information as well as downloading a study app on her phone. Finally, in June, Dina took the exam. Although she says the interview was challenging because of her nerves, she passed with flying colors and hopes to take the citizenship oath this month or next. She hopes to work in government where she can apply her public relations knowledge.
The second client is named Carlos. He came to the U.S. six years ago from Nicaragua and now lives with his wife and three kids, all of whom are U.S. citizens. He works maintenance in an office building to support his family, but set a goal of becoming a citizen in order to find a better job and earn a U.S. passport for travel. He too came to Just Neighbors in August 2017, completed and filed his citizenship application in October, and was fingerprinted in November. In the months preceding the exam, Carlos met with a Just Neighbors volunteer several times to study and learn the material incrementally. He passed his exam and interview last month, and hopes to take his citizenship oath in either July or August. Both Carlos and Dina have benefited from the U.S. immigration system, and their stories give us hope that, despite the current impasse within the system, it can work for the benefit of individuals and the legacy of the United States.

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The mission of Just Neighbors is to provide immigration legal services to low-income immigrants and refugees in Virginia, especially those who are most vulnerable. We also seek to foster enriching experiences that enhance awareness and mutual understanding among our clients, volunteers, staff and community.

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