For the eighth consecutive year, the LEAP Center (and its forerunner, the Junior Fellows) partnered with the Huntsville Public Library to lead a spring Citizenship class to immigrants. The class is five weeks long, one night a week, and it covers the major material on the Naturalization Exam.
This year, we had more than 30 people sign up, but scheduling difficulties reduced the number of immigrants who actually attended. With a core of about 10-15 immigrants per night, the LEAP Center students and volunteers (thank you Terry Stivers, Roberta Plant, and Carol Hayes) worked with these immigrants to help them learn American history and government. We had a fun kick-off, with the Mayor and council members stopping by on the first night (on their way to the parade):
To become a citizen, an immigrant must meet certain legal requirements. They have to be in the country for a specific length of time (which varies by whether you are married to a US citizen), have generally followed the law, and not have any egregious moral failings.
The test itself includes an oral section, where immigrants read statements; a written section, where immigrants write down sentences read to them; an oral interview, in which immigrants are asked about their past and behaviors (“are you often drunk?“, “have you ever been a prostitute?”); and they must answer correctly at least six out of ten questions pertaining to American government and history.
These questions range from naming one of the two longest rivers in the US to knowing three cabinet posts to knowing the name of the national anthem.
We covered these major topics over the course of the first four weeks. Karla Rosales, who took a leadership role in the program by virtue of her internship with the Huntsville Public Library, led off the proceedings with a bit of instructions…
Although most of the presentations were led by Professor Yawn, the students worked with small groups of immigrants throughout the program.
It was also nice to receive community support. On week four, for example, the Daughters of the American Revolution attended and provided American-themed gifts to the immigrants–flags, pocket constitutions, pencils, and other fun things.
This was a big hit, especially among some of the immigrants’ children:
On the final week of the immigration class, the immigrants and volunteers relive the first Thanksgiving, with all participants bringing dishes from their native country and joining in a celebratory feast. The food is great!
Another special feature of the final week is the presentation made by Audrey Biggar, a local immigration attorney. She graciously agrees to assist the immigrants and provide advice for navigating the process. (She is also President of the Walker County Bar Association, making her one of the more civic-minded of the local bar.) She also brings great Thai food to the dinner!
Finally, the immigrants receive a certificate of completion, a prelude, we hope, to citizenship.
And with one final group photo, the class is over.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the students and immigrants got back together. The Huntsville City Council invited the immigrants to a City Council meeting to be recognized for their efforts.
For the immigrants and the students, it was their first-ever City Council meeting and, again, a big hit among the kids.
Over the past eight years, the LEAP Center has worked with about 150 immigrants from more than 20 countries. Approximately 40 have obtained their citizenship.