Path to citizenship, Part 2: A partnership begins
From the Frederick News-Post
Originally published November 28, 2009
By Nicholas C. Stern, Frederick News-Post Staff
On the heels of an increase in new citizens voting in the 2008 presidential election, about 35 nonprofits and advocacy groups started the Maryland New Americans Partnership. The partnership, with its New American Initiative, has investigated ways for immigrants to integrate more fully into the community, and how they can capitalize on their right to vote and their job skills by becoming citizens, according to Anna Anderson, the partnership coordinator.
Gov. Martin O'Malley signed an executive order in December 2008, creating the Maryland Council for New Americans to assist the partnership.
Anderson thinks such citizenship work was unique in the U.S.
The partnership will also foster a growing network of organizations across the state focused on providing much-needed resources to Maryland's immigrant population, she said.
Early in November, the local nonprofit Centro Hispano de Frederick started its own series of citizenship classes for a few dozen immigrants, mostly from Latin America.
James Chung is doing similar work in Western Maryland with AmeriCorps, helping permanent residents become U.S. citizens.
Since October, Chung said, he has spoken with about 40 or 50 people interested in gaining citizenship. Some speak excellent English, have been established in the state for years, if not decades, and need little more than some help filling out the $675 application for citizenship, known as the N-400.
Still others have used Chung's and Centro Hispano's citizenship instruction as an impetus to sharpen their language skills.
Eduardo and Maria De La Torre are two of Chung's pupils. He teaches them English and U.S. history as a supplement to the citizenship classes they are taking at Centro Hispano.
The couple married and in 1992 they left their home in Capilla de Guadalupe, Mexico, a small ranching town about a four hours northwest of Mexico City. They hoped for better job opportunities and a better life in California.
Jobs were scarce, however, so in 1996 they picked up and moved to Gaithersburg, Eduardo said.
He now works as a school bus driver in Olney, though he, his wife and their three children, all born in the U.S., have lived in Frederick for about six years.
The De La Torres became permanent residents about 10 years ago, they said.
Eduardo wants to be able to vote, he said. Maria worries about how foreign-born residents are sometimes treated in the area. Both yearn for the same rights as their citizen peers and believe citizenship will open up job opportunities with the government.
"Somebody told us about the (citizenship classes at Centro Hispano), Eduardo De La Torre said, "and we thought: 'This is the time to learn.'"