Local Classes Help Residents Become U.S. Citizens

Bertha Zafera Sanchez takes time after work to teach herself and her husband the English language and answers to questions necessary to become a United States citizen through naturalization. Sanchez, a community member of Humboldt County, has been a U.S. resident for 25 years and is now taking classes in preparation to acquire citizenship.

“Now with the citizenship, we’ll have the opportunity to vote,” Sanchez said. “Now [I can go out] if there’s a march to ask the government to listen to us like the humans we are.”

The free classes, named Towards Citizenship, started in January with the intention of preparing residents in Humboldt for the process that comes with applying for naturalization. The classes are currently held on Tuesdays in Fortuna until March 27 and on Fridays in Eureka until March 23.

The free classes, named Towards Citizenship, started in January with the intention of preparing residents in Humboldt for the process that comes with applying for naturalization.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, the nearest listed location for preparation classes is in the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, which is more than 150 miles away from Eureka.

Elizabeth Niemeyer started Towards Citizenship classes in 2016 after spending time as an English as a second language teacher.

The number of people who attend these classes fluctuates, but Niemeyer says that they’ve had between 12 to 21 students at the Eureka location since the start of the sessions this year.

Sanchez and her husband are two of the people currently attending the Towards Citizenship classes in Eureka. She is currently awaiting her appointment to take her final test. Sanchez said that in becoming a citizen she will feel safer and help others.

“There’s so much opportunity here,” Sanchez said.

Niemeyer said she’s helped see people through the process of naturalization, but that it could be a daunting task.

People must pay a fee upon turning in an application with corresponding documents, go through biometrics processing where fingerprints are taken, wait to take a test and lastly, attend a ceremony upon passing the test.

“Of course, you can’t do that here,” Niemeyer said. “You can’t just go to a police station here. You have to down to Santa Rosa to the official place to do the biometrics.”

Niemeyer said that it has been difficult when making attempts to communicate with USCIS about having correspondents make the trip up to Humboldt County.

“I find it extremely hard to communicate with [USCIS],” Niemeyer said. “We heard once that once 10-20 years ago, they actually came up here and did a set of interviews. I’ve been trying to get a hold of them to see if they could do that and I don’t get any response.”

The Jefferson Community Center hosts the free classes held in Eureka, while the Fortuna sessions are held in the Multi-Generational Center. If people are interested, they are encouraged to attend a class session every Tuesday in Fortuna at 4:30 p.m. or Friday in Eureka at 5:45 p.m. Child care is also provided for people if needed.

The quotes of Bertha Zafra Sanchez were translated from Spanish to English by the El Leñador staff.

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