On the path to citizenship





Maria Gomez and Dorisley Betancourt Castillo are two of 20 permanent resident aliens who are now one step closer to becoming U.S. citizens.

On Thursday night, the two women, along with their 18 classmates completed a 24-week course offered by United Methodist Mexican American Ministries (UMMAM).

Gomez, who is originally from Honduras, has been in America for 13 years. She and her husband, Hector Gomez, took the citizenship course together.

Maria Gomez said it was very difficult to survive financially in Honduras. Since she has been in the United States, their lives have improved drastically.

"Financial security, better living, better lifestyle, almost every aspect of life has improved," said Mel Galvez, community developer at UMMAM, translating for Maria Gomez, who also said there is very little freedom in Honduras.

The same is true for Castillo, who came to America seven years ago from Cuba, a communist country.

"It's very, very ugly, so there's no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion, nothing," Castillo said.

Mel Galvez said Castillo's experience with communism helped him convey to the class the blessing of living in a democratic country.

"Throughout the course, I really wanted people to understand and appreciate the concept of a democracy, and having her in class, I think that really helped," Galvez said.

According to a press release from UMMAM, with a grant from Garden City and donation of space from the First United Methodist Church, UMMAM expanded its immigration services by offering the citizenship course to help prepare students for the next steps involved in becoming a U.S. citizen.

Michael Feltman, UMMAM's on-site immigration lawyer, said there are several steps involved.

To even begin the process, those married to U.S. citizens must be permanent resident aliens for three years. All others must be permanent resident aliens for five years.

"They also have to meet the English requirement, to be able to speak sufficient English. It doesn't have to be perfect," Feltman said. "And that involves doing both a history and government test, and then they've also got some reading and writing they have to do."

They must submit to a background check and provide fingerprints as well. After submitting applications for citizenship, students go through an interview process with a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer.

During Thursday's final class, students were given mock interviews to help prepare them for that.

After satisfactorily completing all requirements with a USCIS officer, students will be invited to attend a naturalization ceremony. The ceremony takes place several times per year at the USCIS offices in Wichita.

After performing the mock interviews, Galvez and Feltman congratulated the students on completing the course, and Feltman explained to them what would take place at the naturalization ceremony, where they will recite an oath pledging allegiance to the U.S.

Galvez provided a cake, decorated as an American flag, and sparkling grape juice for the students, toasting them on their accomplishment, to which they all yelled out, "salud," the Spanish equivalent of "cheers."

Students from Mexico and Guatemala also completed the course.

For more information about UMMAM and other immigration services it provides, contact 275-4970.

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