Maryland's Newest Citizens
NACPM’s members work with Legal Permanent residents in their respective communities to apply for, study for, and eventually receive their U.S. citizenship. These new citizens come from Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Every immigrant that comes to this country has their own goals and aspirations for a better life and their own uniquely fascinating story. Below are the stories of several immigrants who have worked with the New American’s Citizenship Project of Maryland to get their citizenship and help realize their American dream.
Gilma is originally from San Miguel, El Salvador, which is one of the largest cities in the country. Before coming to the United States, Gilma graduated college with a degree in Secretarial Studies. Gilma's main motivation for coming to the U.S. was the civil war in El Salvador, which had become extremely dangerous by the 1990's. She recalls that “There was guerilla terrorism trying to recruit those who had gone to study, in particular those who had graduated from college with a degree. So I made arrangements with a coyote to bring me to the U.S.”
When she first came to the United States she was very scared. She was detained by immigration at the border and was held in a center for 30 days. She received help from an attorney and her cousin helped her pay for bond. Of this experience, Gilma recalls that her life was drastically changed:
“The challenges did not stop there. Approximately 90% of my life changed. I arrived to stay with people I barely knew, that I didn’t yet trust. Life was not the same. I had left behind my entire family, to come stay here with people I barely knew. The language was also a great challenge. Through all of the hardships I faced, I am eternally grateful to those who first received me when I first arrived, as well as those who made it possible for me to come.”
She tells how her detention was cleared through the NACARA law due to the violence in El Salvador.
Gilma wanted to become an American citizen because she had lived here for half of her life and had her two children here. She did not want to go back to her country of origin without her two children. When asked what it meant to her to be an American Citizen, she replied, “It means being accepted as one more person who belongs here. I feel like I matter, like I am important, and like my presence in this country has meaning.” After becoming a citizen, Gilma exclaimed that she felt honored and proud to be a citizen and belong to this country. She also said that she is hopeful that she will be able to obtain a better job and have opportunities to better her life and that of her family.
When asked if she had any advice for those going through the citizenship process, Gilma said:
“My advice for others is that if you are already a Legal Permanent Resident for 5 years take the step today to become a citizen – don’t wait. This process, if you have the right help, is easy. Your results will be worth it since you will be able to vote and elect a President who is favorable to our needs as immigrants.”
Victor came to the United States in 1979 after escaping the Civil War in El Salvador. The Civil War in El Salvador took a very personal toll on Victor when his wife was assaulted and murdered. Desperate to find a better life, Victor’s courage and willingness brought him to the United States.
After arriving in the U.S., Victor found a construction job and things began to improve for him financially. However, with the economic turbulence in the U.S., he unfortunately lost his job. In an effort to seek more stable job opportunities, Victor began the process of applying for U.S. citizenship. He first went to a community organization to get help filling out his application, but there were several errors made on his N-400, which resulted in his application being denied. He decided to apply again, this time with an NACPM AmeriCorps member. He finally became a U.S. citizen in 2011, 32 years after arriving on U.S. soil. When asked about how he felt after passing the test, he answered:
“This is really the best news in my life. I am proud and happy to be an American Citizen. I am excited about voting in the next Presidential election.”
Minty is originally from Liberia in West Africa. She left her war stricken home country in 1999 to come to the United States in search of a safer living situation. Minty describes her life during that time:
“Before I came to the U.S., I used to sell donuts on the highway for me and my children to survive. Because I do not have an education, and my family never had money, I did not even know where to go to school. God was so good to me; one of my friends from Liberia gave me the opportunity to go to the U.S. She gave me an opportunity for a better life.”
Minty’s friend arranged for her seven children to be taken care of while she went to the United States. When she arrived, a friend encouraged her to share her story, which ultimately resulted in her being granted asylum.
When asked how she adjusted to the challenges of coming to the U.S., she explained how she did not speak, read, or write English but quickly learned after enrolling in adult classes at a local community college. She was also able to learn how to drive and get her driver’s license. She began working part-time as a care taker at a retirement home and realized that care-taking was her passion. Through many sacrifices she earned her personal Caregiver Certificate and hopes that with citizenship she will be able to get her General Nursing Assistant Certificate. When asked what it means to be a citizen for her, she answers, “It means everything. I don’t even know how to describe it. What I can describe in words is that it means a lot to me.” Minty would recommend anyone who was going through the process of becoming a citizen to use the services of the NACPM, “this program is incredibly helpful and I hope that the people that support it will continue to keep the program alive. I am so grateful.”
Jorge is originally from Villa de San Carlos, department of Morazán, El Salvador. He first came to the U.S. in 1984. He was born in a small village where he grew up and went to school from K-9th grades. He had to go to San Miguel to finish high school where he earned a degree to work as an electrician... He was the mayor of his village from 1979-1982. He had to leave after graduating because the army was looking for young people to recruit. "If anyone refused, they would kill you or your family, or take them as hostages." At that time, the violence in El Salvador was at its peak. Every day on his way to school he would see people who had been executed on the road, “it was very rare that you would not see someone who had been executed when driving on the road.” He had two brothers that were already in security for private companies and were afraid that militant groups would come for him. To protect himself and his family, Jorge felt that he had to leave El Salvador.
When he first came to America it was a very difficult experience for Jorge. There were very few Latinos in Maryland at that time and to find any other Latinos, “I had to go to El Gavelan supermarket in Washington D.C.” English was very difficult for him and he did not have money for classes. He found a school where he could take classes, but it was difficult because when he came to class he was exhausted from work. “At the time it was very difficult but I learned from listening.” He also made a close group of friends.
When asked why he wanted to become an American Citizen, Jorge answered:
“America is like the mother who adopted me, like my second mother. I am very thankful to this country and the opportunities it has given me and that are why I want to become a citizen. Also I want to be more a part of this country and to be able to make decisions about how this country is governed.”