By Rosa Avila, SEIU Local 1
Born in Mexico, raised on the north side of Chicago, and now a member with SEIU Local 1 working as a janitor, I became a naturalized U.S. citizen in the early 2000s. When I was younger I saw no need in becoming a citizen. It wasn’t top of mind, but the early 2000s were a hard time to be an immigrant in our country. Between the worrisome immigration policy changes of the Bush administration and the gentle urgings from family and friends, I finally took the important and rewarding step of becoming a naturalized citizen. To this day, I’m so thankful for those people, particularly my sister, for encouraging me and standing by me as I took my first steps in the process.
That’s why I was so excited to be able to assist eligible SEIU members, soon-to-be union members, and their family and friends in their naturalization journey through the SEIU Virtual Citizenship Workshop that took place on June 24.
With help from my union family, I began my work of patiently helping people through the process, step-by-step — over the phone, over video, and often in different time zones, as people from all over the U.S. were part of this workshop.
Standing beside my union siblings was so important to me. For many, it’s normal to be unsure and nervous about a lot of things: taking the civics test in English when it’s not your first language, the impact it could have on your life, or even concerns over what others may think. I’ve been there before! So I knew how important it was for me to have their backs throughout the process just as my sister was there for me many years ago. The naturalization process can be intimidating, but we can get through it when we work together and encourage each other.
Having experienced the BENEFITS of naturalization, I was able to reassure everyone — there's nothing to be scared of, it's really just a matter of prioritizing and just doing it! We can’t let fear hold us back. I remind them that just like all workers, we pay taxes and are crucial to the U.S. economy. Therefore, we deserve to have a voice in who represents us. We have to take the first step and trust the process and ourselves.
DYK: Newly naturalized U.S. citizens are a growing voting bloc that has the potential to decide elections across the country! There are about 9 million eligible lawful permanent residents (green card holders) who can apply for U.S. citizenship.
And though voting is one of the most prominent benefits of citizenship, there are many more that I often reminded people about during the course of the Citizenship Workshop — like protections from deportation, better job and educational opportunities, freedom to travel without burden or fear, and the ability to reunite with loved ones who may still be living in their country of birth.
Applying for citizenship is a very emotional process (it was for me too, even this time around!), and I think having people like me there — motivating, supportive, proud family members (because that’s what we were at the end) who wouldn't let them stop halfway through — helped people keep going to the end.
The program was successful and it has helped so many people. My hope is that not only will all the people who applied become U.S. citizens, but that SEIU will hold this workshop again next year. It would be an honor to assist again because I really enjoyed getting to know people, getting to help people, and I enjoyed so many of the conversations we had over the course of the workshop. I could deeply relate to so many of the emotions expressed. Sometimes just the way somebody said something brought a smile to my face.
Many applicants who were raised in the US and are fluent in English, who just wanted to speak with me in English at first, ended up feeling so connected that they switched to Spanish towards the end. When I think of that, and the impact this Citizenship Workshop is having, I get emotional and excited to keep ensuring that all who are eligible to become U.S. citizens can AND WILL.
Are you or anyone you know ready to become a U.S. citizen?
See if you’re eligible to apply and start your application online now at iAmerica.org/citizenship