State

Agency provides tips on citizenship process

TURLOCK — What's your full name? Have you ever been married to more than one person while in the United States? Have you ever tried to overthrow the government?

These are some of the questions an immigration official would ask a citizenship applicant during a naturalization interview. Not very difficult questions to answer, immigration officials say, but the interview is designed to ensure the applicant is telling the truth.

"Trust me, we already know all this," said Susan Curda, a district director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Curda was speaking to about 30 people who attended a naturalization workshop last week at the Assyrian National Council of Stanislaus office in Turlock.

The free workshop is part of a larger federal initiative to help immigrants better understand the process to gain citizenship.

Attendees watched a mock naturalization interview. The workshop organizers want to alleviate some of the fears and nervousness that immigrants might have about the interview and the test they have to take to become a citizen.

"We want to demystify the process for people," Curda said.

Her agency is trying to arrange at least four such workshops in each region to better prepare citizenship applicants with the free educational resources and materials available from the agency.

The agency wants to organize a workshop in Modesto, but it needs a community organization that works with immigrants to invite it, said Don Riding, director of the agency's field office in Fresno.

Some of the people at the Turlock meeting were getting ready to start the process. Others had submitted their applications and were waiting for their naturalization interview.

Officials at the workshop discussed the naturalization process step by step. They provided information about eligibility and residency requirements, application forms, fees, the background security check and processing times.

The attendees saw sample questions from the new citizenship test and received an overview of U.S. history and civic principles.

Officials also handed out free educational materials, including a pamphlet that displays the subjects the applicants need to study for the naturalization test.

One of the sections of the test is based on assessing how well the applicant reads, writes and speaks English.

Michelle Hoffman, a community relations official for Citizenship and Immigration Serv-ices, showed the workshop attendees all the vocabulary words they will need to learn for the test. The vocabulary words are in the pamphlet they handed out.

"Are we giving you the answers to the test? No, but we're showing you where they are," Hoffman said to the attendees. "You can't take (the pamphlet) in with you when you take the test, so you'll have to learn them."

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

    

Eligibility Requirements

AGE

  • Applicants must be at least 18 years old.

RESIDENCY/PHYSICAL PRESENCE

  • Applicant must have been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence.
  • Has resided continuously as a lawful permanent resident in the United States for at least five years before filing with no single absence from the United States of more than one year
  • Has been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the previous five years
  • Has resided within a state or district for at least three months
  • NOTE: If you are married to a U.S. citizen, you can naturalize if you have been living in the United States with your spouse for three years.

GOOD MORAL CHARACTER

Generally, an applicant must be a person of good moral character. A person cannot be found to be of good moral character if, during the past five years, he or she:

  • Has been convicted of two or more offenses for which a total sentence imposed was five years
  • Has been involved in smuggling illegal aliens into the United States
  • Is or has been a habitual drunkard
  • Has willfully failed or refused to support dependents
  • Has given false testimony, under oath, in order to receive a benefit. (For a list of other offenses, go to the Web site.)
  • NOTE: An applicant who has been convicted of an aggravated felony is permanently barred from naturalization.

LANGUAGE

  • Applicants for naturalization must be able to read, write, speak and understand words in ordinary use in the English language. (There are exceptions related to age, residency and disability.)

U.S. GOVERNMENT/HISTORY KNOWLEDGE

  • An applicant for naturalization must demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history and of the principles and form of government of the United States. (Exceptions are provided based on disability, age and residency.)

OATH OF ALLEGIANCE

To become a citizen, one must take the oath of allegiance. By doing so, an applicant swears to:

  • Support the constitution and obey the laws of the United States
  • Renounce any foreign allegiance or foreign title
  • Bear arms for the armed forces of the United States or perform services for the government of the United States when required by law

EXPEDITED NATURALIZATION

On July 3, 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Expedited Naturalization Executive Order benefiting noncitizens on active duty in the U.S. military during the war on terrorism. The executive order allows active-duty personnel serving on or after Sept. 11, 2001, to immediately file for citizenship. Normally, a military service member would have to complete one year of honorable service before qualifying to file for citizenship.

POSTHUMOUS BENEFITS

The Immigration and Nationality Act allows for the awarding of posthumous citizenship to active-duty personnel who die while serving in the U.S. military. In addition, surviving family members seeking immigration benefits are given special consideration.

On the Net: More in-depth information regarding the naturalization process: www.uscis.gov.

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