The path to citizenship

ELCA congregations hold classes, provide support By Anne Basye

Twelve people participate in a naturalization ceremony at Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in Chelan, Wash. At last, David Hurtado can vote for his local

school board members, hospital commissioners and legislators. “I have a voice,” said the Manson, Wash., resident,

who voted for the first time last November. A U.S. resident for nearly 35 years, he and his wife, Leticia, became citizens on Aug. 24. That evening they, along with 10 others, were naturalized during a ceremony at Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center based in Chelan, Wash. The new citizens took their oath of allegiance

surrounded by mountains and a supportive crowd. Paula Swasko, former worship coordinator at Holden, sang the national anthem. Medic Dana Petersen played the bagpipes. Among the guest speakers was the Hurtados’ daughter, Yessica Patino Hurtado. “A naturalization ceremony is a major event in

people’s lives,” Keith Brown, director of the Yakima field office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), told the several hundred witnesses present. “It has taken a lot of time and effort on their behalf to earn what many of us acquire at birth.”

Lutherans lend a hand

The Hurtados studied to become citizens through Hand in Hand, a nonprofit in Wenatchee, Wash., that offers citizenship classes for legal permanent residents. The classes prepare people with green

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cards for the naturalization test, which covers U.S. history and governance. Applicants are interviewed (in English) about their character and background, which has been vetted carefully. Not passing the citizenship test after two tries

means forfeiting a $725 application fee. To help applicants succeed, Hand in Hand partners with more than a dozen churches and schools to offer its USCIS-accredited programs. Churches may offer space or volunteers to teach the 10-week classes, said director Norma Gallegos, a member of the Holden Village board. Celebration Lutheran Church in East Wenatchee,

Wash., was an early participant. “A few members helped teach the classes and when they ended, we held monthly gatherings to keep members and students connected,” said Dave Haven, Celebration’s pastor. Over a meal, participants and volunteers shared

stories. “We used maps of the U.S. and Mexico so we could point out where we were from and talk about growing up in those places, whether it was North Dakota or Chiapas,” Haven said. Another time, the group talked about the significance of their last names. “Focusing on things we had in common was a

really nice way to blend our commonalities as people of God,” he said. In Charleston, S.C., people from 18 countries are

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