By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT – Becoming a U.S. citizen provides privileges such as the right to vote, being able to obtain certain benefits and being able to bring family members to the U.S.
To help prepare people to become naturalized citizens in the Diocese of Davenport, naturalization kits have been created and expanded.
Nora Dvorak, a volunteer in the diocese’s Social Action Office and former longtime director of refugee resettlement, explained her role in getting the kits established and now expanded.
She said that when she worked with refugees, most who were from Vietnam, many did not become citizens for various reasons.
Classes to prepare people to become citizens were offered, but didn’t always meet the needs of the people. Classes were often in English and offered at times that refugees couldn’t meet.
So Dvorak worked with the Generation Area Agency on Aging to obtain a grant about 10 years ago to create kits to help seniors fulfill the requirements to become citizens.
“My Hoa Cao and I came up with tapes, which were commonly used at that time, with questions and answers to the naturalization test,” Dvorak said.
In planning the audio tapes, Dvorak and Cao decided it would be good to record a male voice and a female voice asking and answering the questions. Dvorak enlisted fellow St. Paul the Apostle parishioner Pat McCauley to do the male voice in English. Dvorak did the female voice.
Cao and a male from the Vietnamese community recorded the same questions and answers in Vietnamese to accompany the English version. The Vietnamese version allowed the seniors to understand the questions and answers more fully.
As the naturalization tests have been changed over the years, Dvorak and McCauley revised the cassette tapes and eventually converted them to audio CDs.
“We primarily did it for the Vietnamese community,” she said. “It was a marvelous success. It was so heartwarming to see them become citizens and gain privileges as a U.S. citizen.”
She said over the years the younger generation of refugees has desired to become citizens. “The information about the kits spread through the community.”
Finally it dawned on her, “Why not offer the naturalization kits in Spanish?” Dvorak knew of the Hispanic/Latino growth in the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa and the U.S.
She asked Kent Ferris, the diocese’s social action director, about doing the kits in Spanish. “He said yes.”
Dvorak then sought permission from Generations Area Agency on Aging since the project originated with that agency.
Deacon Julian Gutierrez and his wife, Rosario, of St. Mary Parish in Davenport, recorded the Spanish version. The Spanish kits were sent to pastors that serve Hispanic communities.
The naturalization kits include the 100 questions and answers that are on the naturalization test and a study guide. The 100 questions cover principles of democracy, system of government, rights and responsibilities, American history and geography. Potential citizens need to know the names of their local and state elected officials for the test as well.
The test is given in English, but some exemptions are made — generally for older individuals. The interviewer asks 20 questions from the 100, Dvorak said.
Once all the paperwork is completed and the individuals pass the test, they are sworn in as citizens of the United States during a ceremony. Typically that happens in the Quad-City area twice a year.