Through the Citizenship Ambassadors Initiative, USCIS partners with community leaders who promote citizenship through their own immigrant experience. The initiative is designed to make a personal and location connection to the more than 9.1 million lawful permanent residents who may be eligible to apply for naturalization and who otherwise may not have access to or knowledge of the naturalization process.
The Citizenship Ambassador Initiative was created to support implementation of President Biden’s Executive Order 14012 to promote naturalization, and is guided by the principles of the Interagency Strategy for Promoting Naturalization.
To help demystify the naturalization process and share the life-changing impact of U.S. citizenship, USCIS selects community leaders across the United States to connect with aspiring citizens. Newly selected citizenship ambassadors connect eligible populations with the USCIS mission by:
- Sharing their own experiences with the naturalization process;
- Highlighting available information and resources;
- Emphasizing the advantages of U.S. citizenship;
- Addressing myths and misconceptions; and
- Providing inspiration for others pursuing citizenship.
Mrs. Magdalena Alvarado is the President of Ser y Hacer Galveston, which she established and where she works to set up citizenship classes for immigrants in Galveston, Texas City, Webster, and the greater Houston area. Ser y Hacer has assisted in preparing adult students for citizenship with over 1,500 naturalized. Alvarado conducts citizenship classes for persons exempt from the English language requirement. Alvarado is already serving as a citizenship ambassador in her community, routinely participating in Women’s Health fairs and volunteering time with the Mexican Consulate to keep the community informed of all available resources to help them in their U.S. citizenship journey.
She has an excellent rapport with the immigrant community in south Texas, as well as with area school directors, law enforcement officers, and city officials, and most recently was instrumental in securing support from the City of Galveston for USCIS Juneteenth Citizenship Ceremony. She is a well-known and respected leader in the Spanish speaking community of South Texas. Alvarado tells her students and community members that U.S. citizenship means hope – hope for an entire family even if just one member naturalizes.
Abdirizak Bihi is the Executive Director of the Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center (SESAC), which he co-founded in 2002 with other community members to provide social services for the Somali and East African communities in Minnesota. SESAC provides mentoring, tutoring, employment placement, and other integration support services for East African youth, adults, and families. Bihi also serves as a consultant for Minnesota state and local municipal institutions and organizations, helping them to better understand and reach the East African community, including the City of Minneapolis Health Department, the Legacy Fund of US Bank, the Cedar Riverside People Center Clinic, Allina Health, Cedar Cultural Center, the University of Wisconsin (at Eu Claire), and the Hennepin County U.S. Census Bureau (Minnesota).
Bihi has been an activist in and with the Somali and East African community since 1996. His vision to educate and train community leaders for civic action and engagement comes directly from the experiences of this father, who was imprisoned for 17 years in Somalia for consistently speaking out on behalf of the community.
Myriam Mézadieu began her career with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) in Miami. She took on the daily operation of the Catholic Emergency Legal Aid for Haitians, a project begun in 1991 to assist Haitians paroled from Guantanamo Naval Base after the 1991 Haitian coup d’état. On June 1, 1994, she co-founded the G.W.L. Legal Project, which was subsequently restructured as Catholic Charities Legal Services, Archdiocese of Miami, Inc., (CCLS). She currently serves as the chief operating officer of CCLS. Supervising a seasoned team of immigration professionals, Mézadieu is committed to serving the under-privileged immigrant community of South Florida, as well as religious workers from all over the world. She holds a BA in business law with a minor in communications and management and a MA in international affairs.
Nam Loc Nguyen fled Saigon on April 27, 1975, eventually resettling in Los Angeles. As a song writer and musician, his music has reflected the refugee experience, including movement from North to South Vietnam, the difficult conditions that civilians experienced during the war, and the subsequent flight of Vietnamese from their homeland. His music is well known among Vietnamese communities worldwide, including the song “Farewell, Saigon,” which is an anthem to those who were forced to flee and is still widely popular today. When Nguyen resettled in Los Angeles, December 1975, he began working for Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Los Angeles (CCLA). During his time with CCLA, as Director of Immigration and Refugee Department, and a Full Board of Immigration Appeals Accredited Representative, he was heavily involved with resettling hundreds of thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Central America, and the Middle East.
Nguyen also oversaw the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. office in Los Angeles and has served as a member of the Naturalization Advisory Committee for USCIS Los Angeles district office for many years. Nguyen has had a very successful career in music and public speaking and as a TV and radio personality for national and worldwide Vietnamese audiences. The movie Green Dragon (2001) is loosely based on his life.
Margarita Rocha was born in Blythe, California and raised in Fresno. She is a mother of three sons, grandmother of ten, and a great-grandmother of ten. From early on, her mother and father who worked in the fields instilled in her that hard work and dedication were the key to success. Rocha was the first person in her family to go to college.
Rocha is the Executive Director of Centro La Familia Advocacy Services (CLFA) and knows that policy decisions can have an immense impact on communities. With more than four decades of experience in community organizing, she also knows that policy decisions occur two ways: with the community’s involvement or without the community’s involvement. She has long been involved in organizing communities in the Central Valley region to raise awareness among residents about their power to impact their communities. She is a strong advocate of U.S. citizenship and is already actively working to promote naturalization.
In her leadership role, Rocha has guided CLFA in the design and implementation of successful programs focusing on serving in a holistic manner that acknowledges and respects the cultural issues of the families they serve. Her work has transformed CLFA from a small, grassroots organization into an important resource for the Hispanic/Latino community, growing the agency from a small staff of five to nearly one hundred, with four locations in Fresno County.
A strong and determined advocate for families, Rocha’s career in advocacy began in the 1970’s. Her work has taken her to Washington, DC, and Cleveland, OH, where she worked in the newly established Office for Civil Rights with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. During this time, she also co-founded the nonprofit League of United Latin American Citizens in Cleveland. A 1976 profile in the local newspaper names her as one of the few Spanish-Speaking Americans working at the federal level field.
Since then, Rocha’s work has been recognized by many others including being CSU Fresno, Fresno City College, The Business Journal, Vida en El Valle, local elected officials, and several community-organizations. In 2019, she has recognized as Woman of the Year by Fresno City Council President Soria, Woman of the Year for District 7, and Champion of Justice by Central California Legal Services.
In November 2020, Rocha was recognized by the Government of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the Ohtli award, one of the highest honors bestowed by the Mexican Government upon persons of Mexican descent for their leadership and blazing a trail for younger generations.
Luis Shephard was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. He comes from a humble family with “great values and a sense to serve the community.” During his childhood, he was actively involved in music with friends and family members and the community church where he grew and developed his musical talent. Shephard moved to the U.S. at the age of 18 in search of new opportunities for himself and his family. He works in human services and healthcare and became a U.S. citizen in 2017. Shephard is proud that he has been able to vote in local and federal elections since gaining citizenship and is coaching his wife and other family and community members through the naturalization process now.
Over the last few years, despite the pandemic, Shephard set up a business as a non-emergency transportation provider and bought his first home. Shephard continues to perform as a percussionist with various artists in the greater Boston area and, alongside running his own business, is a resident counselor and certified nurse’s assistant for Bay Cove Human Services. He is also an alum of the Boston Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Immigrants Lead Boston program.
Dr. Mara Vaughn runs a very successful citizenship program at the University of North Texas-Dallas Campus, where she also teaches various courses. Dr. Vaughn integrates college students and faculty from various departments, including the School of Education and the Law School into her program. College students are trained to teach citizenship and civics courses while earning college credits, while faculty conduct research and integrate new experiential learning models into the course. Her program is a collaborative effort engaging non-profit organizations, media, law firms, ISDs and recently, public libraries.
Dr. Vaughn has presented her U.S. Citizenship Preparation Model at national and international conferences. The program was observed the past academic year for duplication at an international location and is currently being evaluated to be duplicated at other locations in the USA. Dr. Vaughn is also the LULAC Dallas Educational Council #272 President and participated in the director’s stakeholder engagement in Dallas, TX, in March 2022, asking insightful questions regarding Section 12 of the N-400 Application for Naturalization. Dr. Vaughn is also a recognized community leader who has built significant trust in the immigrant community, particularly among Latinos.
She immigrated to the United States from Brazil 30 years ago, initially earning her U.S. GED/high school equivalency, and going on to earn her Ph.D. Dr. Vaughn’s motto is to assist underserved immigrant populations by creating outreach programs that foster citizenship and brings forth socioeconomic mobility.
Pao Yang is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The Fresno Center, a nonprofit organization with a 30-year history of promoting cross-cultural understanding through its community work. The Fresno Center provides social services, advocacy, immigration, education, workforce training, and mental health services within Fresno County and throughout California. Yang is very generous with his time and applies his diverse leadership experiences to help the community and other charitable nonprofits across the Valley with engaging in critical policy issues, exchanging proven practices, and advancing their missions through advocacy.
Over the past 20 years, he has held multiple leadership positions in non-profits and higher education. He has helped hundreds of Southeast Asian students earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering and technology while mentoring them so they can become the next generation of community leaders. Yang holds a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering and a master’s degree in business administration. Yang is currently a candidate for his doctorate degree in organizational leadership. Yang is a current member on the following boards and committees:
- Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer’s Advisory Committee Member
- City of Fresno Immigrants Affairs Committee Member
- Saint Agnes Hospital Board of Directors
- Fresno Unified School District Foundation Board Member
- Commission on Engagement of Young Man at SCCD Committee Member
- Steering Committee Member for Central Southeast Specific Plan
- Member of Kiwanis Club of East Fresno