Naturalization Legal Services in the Classroom
Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) of Baltimore Provide Mini-Workshops on Legal Services
BCCC established its Citizenship Program in 1998, and has provided Citizenship Preparation Classes ever since. However, the program lacked the ability to assist legal permanent residents in completing their applications for naturalization. Through the USCIS Citizenship and Integration Grant in 2012, BCCC began partnering with a sub-awardee, IRC of Baltimore, to broaden the scope of their services to the community. Since 2015, IRC has provided application “mini- workshops,” both within the classroom and at other convenient locations outside of class. The mini-workshops not only improve the quality of citizenship instruction, but promote both organizations’ services as well.
During the mini-workshops, IRC staff explain the application process, screen students for naturalization eligibility, and help students fill out applications if they are ready to do so. The sessions begin with an introduction to the entire class, and a question and answer session that benefits all students (even those not ready to fill out an application). Then, the IRC staff members pass around a sign-up sheet to find out which students are interested in receiving assistance with their applications or if any would like to speak with a representative one-on-one.
Students are often eager to speak with the IRC on a range of questions, and many benefit from speaking privately with the staff to learn about their options in filing for naturalization. Students are able to meet with the staff at the workshop, or if they require additional legal assistance, can arrange for a separate appointment at IRC in Baltimore or during the next workshop. These workshops have proven beneficial for many students. During 2016, IRC and BCCC organized five workshops and completed an average of four applications at each of them. Also, at each workshop they referred three to four students to an additional meeting for more specialized assistance.
While the priority of these workshops is to assist as many eligible students as possible with completing the naturalization application, the program also helps to inform students about the naturalization process in general. Students take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions such as how the citizenship process could be affected by political changes or fee waivers. BCCC finds the workshops to be highly beneficial even if students attend before they are ready to begin completing their applications.
One of the main challenges BCCC and IRC face in holding these workshops is when students do not have all the required documents ready to start the application. To make the best use of the IRC representatives’ time, they provide students with a document checklist and remind them of the necessary materials they should come prepared with. BCCC has found the collaboration proves especially useful to students with complex cases, particularly those who may have received incorrect immigration advice in the past or are unclear about the citizenship process in general. BCCC and IRC also support students of all proficiency levels and can even use a phone interpretation system to interpret the conversation, if necessary.
Many students take advantage of the mini-workshops from the beginning of the citizenship process through the end. Alexandra is a student who attended BCCC’s citizenship preparation class held at the Gilchrist Immigrant Resource Center over the course of a year. She was able to take advantage of numerous IRC mini-workshops and used them to ask questions about the citizenship process, and later to complete her Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. “The class helped a lot and my teacher was so good. Without the IRC I would not have applied for citizenship. I did not know how to obtain all the documents I needed for my application but the IRC helped me,” said Alexandra. In large part due to this program, Alexandra passed her initial naturalization interview and test in September 2017, and is now waiting for her oath ceremony to be scheduled. With the help of the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program, BCCC and IRC have partnered to provide services throughout the entire life cycle of the citizenship application process. Through the mini-workshops, IRC is providing the final step to eligible Lawful Permanent Residents as they secure their future in the United States.