May 27, 2022 by HCDE-Texas
Under renewed efforts to strengthen pathways to naturalization, HCDE’s Adult Education division held two citizenship information sessions in partnership with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at the North Post Oak building this week.
“This is the first time we’ve held these information sessions in a long time,” said Adult Education Program Manager Bill Medina. “We’ve offered citizenship preparation classes for years, but after COVID-19, we are now trying to revive them.”
According to USCIS, in the City of Houston, 165,000 legal residents qualify for citizenship.
In Texas, adult education ESL courses like those offered by HCDE include a civics component. These lessons enable students to achieve English competency and acquire skills needed to function as parents, workers, and residents in the United States effectively. Research shows that individuals who naturalize, or become citizens, often make more money and have better job and educational opportunities.
Nearly 100 individuals took part in the information sessions. The participants, many of whom are former or current HCDE Adult Education English as a Second Language (ESL) students, learned about the naturalization process, eligibility requirements, testing, and citizenship rights and responsibilities.
“I hope the main takeaway for them was to be careful with immigration scams,” said Department of Homeland Security Community Relations Officer Rosa Ramirez, who led the sessions. “They don’t need to have an attorney. It’s an option. They can if they want to, but they can do it themselves as well.”
Following each session, participants had the opportunity to sign up for Adult Education’s free citizenship preparation courses. Individuals can enroll in either a 5-week ESL citizenship course or a 12-hour fast-track course.
“The 5-week course goes more into civics and is a more extensive type of class where we prepare them with some grammar, so they know how to answer the questions properly,” said Medina. “It’s very important how they respond to the immigration official. If they mess up in any way, they take points off. So, we want to make sure they can answer the questions appropriately with the right grammar.”
The 12-hour course, a new offering, is geared towards individuals who are proficient in English. Instruction takes place 3 hours a day over four days. In both courses, components of the citizenship test, such as the 100 questions, will be studied and practiced. Students also receive guidance on filling out the citizenship paperwork and information about community organizations, such as Baker Ripley or Catholic Charities, which are accredited by the Department of Justice to provide free or low-cost legal services.
Attendee Katya Rodriguez, who decided to enroll in the 5-week ESL citizenship preparation course, says the opportunity to obtain citizenship would broaden her employment opportunities.
“The next step is to see how good my English is and see what my future holds,” she said. “Right now, I’m a security guard, so the extra help to improve my spelling would be great. My family came here when I was young and I’ve been in Houston for 20 years. I feel part of the United States already. So why not be fully part of it?”
The key to becoming a citizen, emphasizes DHS representative Ramirez, is preparation.
“I’ve been doing this for many years, and I’ve seen so many people go through this journey,” said Ramirez. “When they get their certificate, it’s one of the happiest moments of their lives. It can happen. They just need to prepare.”
For more information or to apply for an HCDE citizenship course, visit hcde-texas.org/adult-education.