June 8, 2007

Facility Opens in San Ysidro for Those Seeking Citizenship

By Raymond R. Beltran

San Ysidro - The opening of a new facility by group Hermandad Mexicana may be a gateway to long-desired advice for immigrants who have delayed asking about gaining citizenship, for any reason.

“I feel like I’m [eligible] because I deserve it,” says Maria de los Angeles, a 39-year old alien resident in San Diego resident who attended Hermandad’s grand opening this past Saturday to get information.

De los Angeles is a native of Costa Rica, a small town in the state of Sinaloa on the northwest coast of México. She was crossed by an older brother at nine and has lived through some harsh times in the U.S.: a junior high school dropout, an underage worker, a victim of spousal abuse and the mother of a deceased son.

Maria de los Angeles, a thirty year resident of San Diego applied for citizenship for the first time at Hermandad Mexicana’s ribbon cutting ceremony. Photo by RRB.

But she’s survived here and she says that in her home country, she’s the tourist. She’s gained a resident alien card, and graduation from City College is just around the corner. Her life is firmly rooted in the thirty years she’s lived in San Diego, says the 39-year old, more than they would have in Sinaloa.

And it’s not that she’s avoided applying for citizenship after all these years. She just hadn’t recognized its importance yet.

“When people call me alien, I feel like a walking spirit,” de los Angeles says. “But this is my city.”

She stayed at Hermandad Mexicana’s new facility in San Ysidro most of the day, taking courses on the citizenship process and filling out forms. Her main drive, to vote and transfer to San Diego State Uniiversity when she graduates.

“Now that I plan to continue going college, I need to make more money,” she says. The only way to do that, take advantage of the perks of being a citizen.

Hermandad Mexicana has actually been open since late April and the 24-year old director, Josefina Moreno, says that in predominately Mexican-Spanish speaking San Ysidro, many people have been peering in curiously, but have yet to query.

“They come here for a reason, getting a better life,” says Moreno. “You know the cliché saying, Coming to America, and I’m here to give information about citizenship because people are too scared to ask or they don’t know what to ask.”

Organizers cut the traditional red ribbon across the office door Saturday, June 2, in hopes of attracting qualified immigrants to apply for legal citizenship.

The facility charges $185 for guidance along the process, which entails filling out the N-400 application, fingerprinting, gathering the appropriate documentation and attending an interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Unlike de los Angeles, the majority of visitors have been the elderly, says Moreno, who are by current immigration laws exempt from having to learn Spanish to gain citizenship.

“Examen En Español Si Tiene 55 Años de Edad y 15 Años de Residente O 50 años de edad y 20 Años de Residente,” reads Hermandad’s community flier.

For immigrants 55 years old, or older, with fifteen years of residency in the U.S., Immigration and Naturalization Service interviews are in Spanish and knowing English is not mandatory. Same goes for 50-plus year olds with twenty years of residency, something Moreno says has peeked an interest in the elderly just learning about the process.

Moreno says she’s come across those that she ultimately cannot help, like the undocumented who are currently at the center of the political immigration debate in Congress. Although, she can refer them to licensed immigration attorneys.

Those who qualify, according to the USCIS website, are those who have “a period of continuous residence and physical presence in the United States … an ability to read, write, and speak English … and good moral character.”

The interview, which Moreno attends with those who need the moral support, contains approximately one hundred questions about an appli-cant’s personal life, the history of the U.S. and governmental processes.

Hermandad’s facility provides classes and mock interviews with applicants to prepare them for the process Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m. They’re free.

Currently, applicants pay $400 for the entire process, applications and fingerprinting, a cost that will increase to $675 in July, says Moreno.

“The laws constantly change, so you constantly have to study … I feel confident,” says Moreno who doesn’t have a degree but over a decade of experience in supporting the immigrant community with citizenship.

“So, I have to do this now before the rates go up,” says de los Angeles, who is now starting the process. “In July, I won’t be able to afford it.”

Hermandad Mexicana is located at 75 E. San Ysidro Blvd in San Ysidro. They can be contacted by telephone at 619-428-4306 and are open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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