One of the privileges many Americans take for granted is citizenship.
There are 10 official steps to naturalization and becoming a citizen as outlined by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is a federal agency that oversees lawful immigration to the United States.
The Huntsville Public Library, in partnership with the Sam Houston State University (SHSU) Law, Engagement, and Politics (LEAP) Center, provides a five-week course for anyone who is interested in the pathway to citizenship. The LEAP Program is directed and lead by Mike Yawn, SHSU Pre-Law Advisor. The Boys and Girls Club of Walker County has also partnered with the Citizenship Classes to refer their English as a Second Language (ESL), General Education Diploma (GED) and Training Courses participants to these classes.
The classes began in 2008, with former Huntsville Public Library employee Richard Lane and Yawn. Following Lane's retirement the class assignment went to Mary Kokot at the Library.
"I have assisted in organizing these classes for the last eight years," said Kokot. "The participants really enjoy the learning and interaction."
"We have tutored approximately 300-400 immigrants from 28 different countries, with at least 100 receiving their citizenship," said Yawn. The classes are usually scheduled for the spring with approximately 30 participants.
The 10 steps for citizenship include: 1) Determine if you are already a citizen; 2) Determine your eligibility to become a U. S. citizen; 3) Prepare application form N-400; 4) Submit Form N-400; 5) Submit biometrics; 6) Complete the interview; 7) Receive a decision on Form N-400; 8) Receive notice to take Oath of Allegiance; 9) Take Oath of Allegiance at Naturalization Ceremony; and 10) Understanding your rights and responsibilities as a U. S. citizens.
The applicants must also pay the naturalization application fee of $725. This includes $640 for application processing and $85 for biometrics services. In step 6 of the process, the applicants must participate in a interview with an USCIS officer and take an English and civics tests. The civics test is composed of 10 questions out of a list of 100. Six correct answers out of ten are required.
Applicants must demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, principles, and form of government of the United States. What is the supreme law of the land? What is the rule of law? Who make federal laws? Who lived in American before the Europeans arrived? Who was the President during World War I? Who did the United States fight in World War II? These are a sample of the 100 questions that are studied. Applicants are given two opportunities to pass the naturalization test.
Nationwide the cumulative pass rate of applicants who took both the English language and civics components of the test from 2010 to 2021 is 91.1% to 93.7%.
An intern for the Huntsville Public Library, Cinthia Villarreal is the student facilitator for the session.
"I am excited to be at SHSU, majoring in criminal justice," said Villarreal. "I came to the U. S. when I was a junior in high school and attended school in Conroe. I am originally from Monterrey, Mexico."
"My dream law school is the University of Texas Law School in Austin. The LEAP program has provided me with many opportunities to meet and interact with a diverse group of people. I hope to finalize my citizenship process in the near future," said Villarreal.
"We are fortunate to have volunteers who return session after session to assist the participants," said Yawn. "Saara Maknojia is a volunteer this year and last year. Maknojia earned her citizenship in May 2022 along with a family member. Doris Cooper is a seven or eight time participant and a citizen. Cooper likes to attend and stay current on her civics knowledge.
"I assist the clients who have been referred by the Boys and Girls Club by translating and answering any questions or concerns," said Salvadore Favela, Career Pathway Specialist.
Yawn added, "this is a wonderful program to be part of, and we hope it helps the participants. The volunteers seem to benefit from the class, me included. We are reminded that citizenship requires responsibilities and those fortunate to be born citizens in the U. S. shouldn't take it for granted. These classes are free and open to the public.Volunteer are also welcomed."