By Leya Speasmaker
June was an important month for a small group of Washington D.C.’s residents. On June 6, 2013, at a public library in Mt. Pleasant, 20 immigrants from 11 different countries became U.S. citizens. Laura Burdick and I, along with staff from Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington, Montgomery College, and CARECEN, were present to witness the event, at the invitation of invitees of USCIS’ Office of Citizenship (OoC).
It is easy to be moved by the reverential mood of the new citizens and the excitement of their families and friends. Loved ones rushed to the front of the room to take pictures of their relatives as they took the oath of citizenship and received their certificates of citizenship. Even small children in attendance were quieted by the importance of the occasion, as a representative from the White House Office of Public Engagement gave a speech and President Obama appeared on video to welcome the new citizens. The newly naturalized at the ceremony reflected the diversity that commonly exists in immigrant communities: faces young and old, people whose native countries ranged from Afghanistan to Bolivia to China, professionals at the ends of their careers and those just starting out.
Laura and I have worked on two Office of Citizenship grants through the past three years, and we have worked alongside eight CLINIC affiliates to establish new legal and education programs. We have learned about the challenges of recruiting and retaining students, the benefits of strong community partnerships, the need to encourage students to apply for naturalization, and the struggle to keep the programs afloat when funding is hard to come by.
Our work with the OoC grant ends in September. Attending the naturalization ceremony so close to the end of the funding period reminded us both of the impact citizenship programs can have in their communities and the importance of this work for individual families. Through naturalization, families are reunified, voters are created, and civic participation is increased. As a result, communities across our nation better reflect the changing faces and the skills and values of the newest citizens among us.
*Leya Speasmaker is a Field Support Coordinator in CLINIC's Capacity Building Section