Becoming Citizens

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Achieving citizenship is a goal for many foreign citizens who come to the United States with the dream of building a life here. Reaching that goal, however, can be confusing.

Lan Truong, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Vietnam in 1975, knows the feeling.

She and her husband, who relocated to Manchester shortly after arriving in the U.S., were naturalized in 1981. They were able to complete the application process and pass the required testing for citizenship, but they had little support in their quest.

“There were no services for immigrants except for ESL (English as a Second Language) classes,” Truong said. “We had to muddle our way through.”

Today, Truong works for Catholic Charities’ Office of Immigration and Refugee Services.

Thanks, in part, to donors like you, Truong and her colleagues help documented immigrants navigate the process toward citizenship.

“Our service is much needed,” said Truong, who has been with Catholic Charities for 25 years and is accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals to represent immigrants in hearings with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Manchester Citizenship Center

Last fall, Catholic Charities helped launch the Manchester Citizenship Center – a pilot project that provides documented immigrants with accredited legal help at free clinics.

Funded by a grant from the Norwin S. and Elizabeth N. Bean Foundation, the Manchester Citizenship Center is a collaborative effort involving Catholic Charities and the International Institute of New England-Manchester. The program is being offered through Welcoming Manchester, a consortium of non-profit organizations that helps immigrants integrate into the general community.

The Manchester Citizenship Center opened its doors last October. The free clinics are held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays at the International Institute of New England-Manchester, 1850 Elm St., Manchester. Future clinics will be held Feb. 25, March 25, April 29 and May 20. Pre-registration is required.

“Our goal is to reduce barriers and make it easy for anyone to get help,” said Cathy Chesley, director of Catholic Charities’ Office of Immigration and Refugee Services. “We hold the sessions on the weekends so they don’t interfere with work.”

Becoming a citizen is a critical step toward integrating new Americans into society, Chesley said. Citizenship moves lives forward and builds stronger families and communities, she explained.

The one-hour workshops are intended for those who can speak, read and write English and are prepared to pass the civics test required by U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services. An attorney assists immigrants in preparing their applications.

“They know enough about citizenship to want to go for it, but they sometimes don’t know how,” Chesley said.

A Catholic Charities attorney and other members of its legal staff assist at the clinics as does a representative from the International Institute of New England-Manchester.

Reducing Barriers and Easing Stress

Chesley said immigrants generally learn about the free workshops by word of mouth. She hopes the center will help 40 immigrants this year.

Truong said it wasn’t until she became familiar with Catholic Charities and read its literature on the refugee experience that she was able to understand some of the stress she dealt with in adapting to a new country.

“It helped me heal,” Truong explains.

Now she tries to ease that stress for others. “I love getting up every morning to come here because it is so rewarding,” she said.