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Students design guide to aid in naturalization process

Published: Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05


Karina Rodriguez / The Prospector

A group of El Pasoans sit in for a naturalization course which took place July 17.

   A group of 14 UTEP students have created a Spanish-language guide to help the large number of older Hispanics applying for U.S. citizenship.

In order to become a U.S. citizen, a candidate must have been a permanent resident of the U.S. for at least five years or have been married to a U.S. citizen for at least three years.

By law, all candidates must pass a test to demonstrate their knowledge of English and U.S. history.

However, the law allows people over 50 years-old to perform the test in Spanish if they have been a permanent resident for at least 15 or 20 years, depending on the exact age.

The guide prepared by UTEP students is aimed to help this specific segment of the Hispanic population in the testing process.

The assignment was part of a summer American government class taught in Spanish by Irasema Coronado, political science professor. Coronado agreed to the class project after she was approached by Iliana Holguin, executive director of the Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, for aid in creating materials in Spanish to help older generations of legal Mexican immigrants obtain citizenship.

“Her class, as a project, decided to take the (sample) 100 questions of the naturalization exam and create a self-help or self-teaching tool for people to study the exam, but in Spanish,” said Azuri Gonzalez, executive director of the Center for Civic Engagement, a university program that promotes community-based teaching and learning. “A lot of materials that are available are typically in English, so this was neat in that they developed something useful for people that don’t have to take the exam in English.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security, there were a total of 67,062 naturalized citizens from Mexico in 2010. In 2011, that number rose to a total of 94,783. The demand for citizenship seems to be on the rise, with Mexico leading the number of immigrants seeking citizenship in the U.S.

An understanding that this assignment would affect people in the surrounding community is what led the students to take the project seriously.

“We had a final session where we put everything together,” said Luisa Cabrera, senior mechanical engineering major. “I think we worked much harder on this project than on regular class assignments because we were aware that the guide would actually have an impact outside of class.”

Cabrera said the project also changed her outlook on community engagement.

“I’m not personally associated with any organization, but this experience has certainly made me more open on the idea of actually doing something to give back and help others,” Cabrera said.

Recently, the introduction and release of “A Guide to Naturalization in Spanish” and “Preparing for Naturalization” was presented to the public at the Undergraduate Learning Center. It has now been weaved into the curriculum for naturalization classes at the Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe.

“We’re very excited to learn about this project and what these students were trying to do to help facilitate the learning experience for folks who want to become U.S. citizens,” said Estela Reyes, media relations and public information officer at La Fe. “We’re going to be using that tool not only at the La Fe Culture and Technology Center in Segundo Barrio, but at our two other facilities where we provide citizenship preparedness education.”

At the La Fe Culture and Technology Center in Segundo Barrio there’s a three-month long waiting list for the citizenship program.

There is a tremendous need for these types of services in the community, said Reyes.

“It is often a difficult process because folks have to do it during regular daytime hours, usually considered a work time or family time,” Reyes said. “But the folks that come to this class do it because they’re determined and they want a piece of the American dream. They want a piece of the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”

The guide is available on the UTEP political science website,, and the Center for Civic Engagement’s website,

Kristopher Rivera may be reached at

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