Citizenship Help for Immigrants

It's part of an initiative to help immigrants integrate into the community.

In about 17 years, 14 percent of the total U.S. population will be foreign-born.

"We're a nation of immigrants. We need immigration reform and we need it now."

Alfonso Aguilar is chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship. He's in Houston this week touting the New Americans Project. It's an initiative developed by the President's Task Force on New Americans. And it depends a great deal on non-profit services and volunteers.

"While immigration is a federal issue, integration is not. Immigrants don't settle in the federal sphere. They settle in cities, in communities. And the federal government has to be involved, but it has to be in partnership with local and state governments, has to be involved with faith-based organizations, with community organizations, with the business sector. And that's what we're trying to do."

Aguilar spoke to members of the non-profit community at the Catholic Charities building. Deacon Joe Rubio is vice-president of the organization. He says locals need to know and understand the laws of citizenship so they can help dispel myths about the process. His own mother was told it was too hard, too expensive and that she would have to stomp on the Mexican flag to become a citizen.

"A lot of myths about becoming a citizen—some are as old as the 1940s when my mom decided yes, she was going to go to Guardian Angel school, yes she was going to sit in that little chair, and yes she was going to become a U.S. citizen. And I still remember the look on her face when she was sworn in and she said 'Pepito, I am now an American citizen.'"

The Citizenship Office is training 280 people in Houston to provide literacy, citizenship and civic classes to legal immigrants.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.
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