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Rolling the dice for citizenship: Refugees join SLC English program for citizenship application

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — For many, Independence Day is a reminder of their goal to gain full citizenship in a free country.

There's a small group of refugees and immigrants who meet twice a week in Salt Lake County to get closer to gaining their U.S. citizenship.

The English Skills Learning Center has designed a unique English class that sets students up for success in their citizenship application. The curriculum focuses on helping immigrants and refugees pass an oral interview and written test covering a range of topics including U.S. history, politics and government.

"There's high stakes here," said Kara Vail, the program coordinator at the learning center.

Passing the citizenship application motivates the students, said Vail. The program has a 92% pass rate.

"Most of the students who already take the initiative to come to our classes and choose to participate, usually pass," said Vail.

The program has around 25 students enrolled. The citizenship test is not cheap — it costs $700 and the application process takes about a year.

Vail said their program partners with Catholic Community Services and can offer legal services and special waivers to decrease the fee.

The program itself receives around $200,000 to $250,000 in grant money from federal Citizenship and Immigration Services, allowing them to provide the classes for free.

"This is probably the most prestigious grant for this type of education," said Vail. "We're very proud to be the only one in Utah that has this grant."

Hedy Miller has been an instructor at the center for more than a decade and has watched the success of multiple students throughout her tenure.

"I think this is probably the most rewarding job that you could have," said Miller.

Miller's classes review the 100 questions required for the citizenship interview. In their applications, each student must answer: why do you want to be an American citizen?

"Many want to vote," said Miller. "Some people want to bring family members and some people want a better job."

For Hafeez Ahmad, becoming a citizen means he can bring his deaf son from Pakistan to the U.S.

"My son come here and I hug my son," said Ahmad, through tears.

Habi Yusuf came to the U.S. six years ago from Somalia and learned what Utah had to offer her.

"I like the mountains," said Yusuf.

In between her work schedule, Yusuf attends class twice a week for a session of 11 weeks.

"I believe in the Constitution," said Yusuf. "I'd like to vote."

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UtahSalt Lake County
Erin Cox


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