Those of us who were born in the United States seldom think about what it means to be a citizen of the greatest nation on earth. We take our freedoms for granted. We never worry about a revolution, a military coupe, being driven from our home, tortured or worse. We travel freely and through our own efforts can raise ourselves up by our boot straps. We never question whether we will be able to get an education or practice our religion without fear. Americans who’ve never travelled beyond U.S. borders have never known anything else. But for the folks we work with life was much different until they came here. They came from places of turmoil, where personal safety was unknown, where families were often separated when they fled, where they grew up in a refugee camp with no school and the list goes on, where many who were allowed to immigrate were forced to leave a wife, husband or children behind. But the struggle wasn’t over when they landed on America’s shore. They may or may not have come with refugee or asylum status. Those with “status” can get a work permit, a social security card, may have a sponsor to help them. Those who arrived with a diplomatic or tourist visa have no status and cannot get a work permit, risk deportation when their visa expires or they commit even a minor violation of the law. They also risk physical harm and women especially may be preyed upon by human traffickers who’ll force them into either work or sex slavery. Texas we’re told is a trafficking hotbed because of the number of undocumented (illegal) immigrants here from all over the world.
Yet there is a common theme you can’t help but notice as you meet them. They all want to be citizens of The United States of America. They want to work hard and make their way; even if they have to work 2 low paying full time jobs just to pay rent here in Austin. They want to educate their kids and themselves if possible. They want to live their lives in peace. But most of all they want to vote and be a full participant in American life. They are excited about the presidential election in November.
For those who went to school or grew up in an English speaking country the citizenship test is not as challenging as it is for those with no schooling or who have to learn English well enough to prepare for the exam. Those who’ve taken the citizenship test and passed it are proud of their accomplishment and proudly tell you that they’re a citizen. Those who don’t pass are determined to take it again until they do pass and there are several agencies in town that offer free citizenship classes. But some of those we work with can’t take the classes because of work or family obligations. So we are taking on the challenge in addition to helping people learn to read. It is such a challenge to keep up but it would be such a reward for us if we help even one person become able to call themselves an American!
|She hopes to be able to vote in November.|