Terrina Wong is the deputy director of Social Services, Education and Training of Pacific Gateway Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. Read more to learn how she went from teaching about cultures from around the world to helping newcomers navigate their new lives in the U.S.
Why do you enjoy working with refugees?
I believe in protecting and valuing human rights, as well as the dignity and respect of each individual. I also deeply believe in empowering those who have to uproot their lives and families.
What inspired you to enter this field of work?
I was a global educator for 20 years. I taught Global Priorities and World Cultures to both students and teachers. I was also the adviser to my school’s Model United Nations club and was inspired when students wanted to do a community service project related to a global issue. A Pacific Gateway Center opportunity allowed us to volunteer and teach English as a second language to the refugee farmers and their families. The work was so rewarding and very inspiring. As I transitioned to work with Pacific Gateway Center, I realized I am now “living” what I was teaching.
Why did you decide to join the Citizenship Navigator program?
Pacific Gateway Center was fortunate to be a recipient of a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services grant. We are able to provide tuition-free ESL/citizenship classes to prepare legal permanent residents to become naturalized citizens. Also. I have taken several CLINIC trainings and I know firsthand the value of CLINIC resources. Our program will benefit from being connected with other refugee resettlement agencies that have direct access to Board of Immigration Appeals resources and support. This will be a great benefit to our students seeking U.S citizenship.
In your opinion, what do your clients gain from becoming U.S. citizens?
Acquiring citizenship keenly matters in strengthening and enriching the lives of refugees and immigrants in American society. I believe U.S. citizenship establishes a meaningful pathway to a deeper sense of belonging and meaningful integration into American communities. Citizenship offers safety, protection and better opportunities; and we find that refugees look forward to the responsibilities that come their new status. Citizenship programs also focus on strengthening English competency, and building confidence in English is key to an effective transition into a new country and a new culture.
In your experience, what hurdles does a refugee face in working to obtain U.S. citizenship?
We have seen a series of obstacles in obtaining citizenship. We notice that those with limited English language proficiency have a difficult time completing the very complicated N-400 form. When clients struggle to understand the process it can hinder their confidence as they prepare for the interview process. Depending on the individual’s circumstances, certain documents are needed that are difficult to get. We have noticed there is great need of support in helping clients prepare all the right documents and evidence needed. Financial obstacles are also really common. The demands of daily life, family, children and work can be overwhelming and preclude the opportunity to seek citizenship.
So far, what have you found to be most beneficial about the Citizenship Navigator program?
We are new to the program so we are still exploring, but the texting campaign is interesting and innovative. We look forward to accessing other services in the future.
What lessons to you seek most as you continue participating in the Citizenship Navigator program?
I hope to learn the strategies and skills that Citizenship Navigators have developed to build capacity for refugee resettlement offices, and how it can be used to facilitate networking and sharing of knowledge and resources.
Learn more about Citizenship Navigator program at cliniclegal.org/citizenshipnavigator