Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation

Sister Gerry is the Immigration Case Manager at Notre Dame Education Center in Boston, Massachusetts. Reflecting on the citizen application process, Sister Gerry said, “Before starting my ministry of teaching citizenship and assisting students with their applications, I rarely gave much thought to the process or how it impacts people who are dealing with it. Now I realize how stressful and arduous it is for those applying.”

At Notre Dame Education Center citizenship students take twelve classes of two and a half hours each. They study civics which includes the history and geography of the United States. They learn English vocabulary specific to the reading and writing of the citizenship test, which is given individually at the Federal field office in Boston. To pass this interview they need to read, write and speak Basic English. From the moment students enter the interview their language skills are being evaluated. Preparing for the interview can be stressful.

As Sister Gerry said. “Anxiety and fear touches people from all education levels. One accomplished professional in her former country shared her concerns with me about measuring up to the expectations of the adjudicator. Being a Muslim and aware of some people’s attitude toward Muslim immigrants, she feared discrimination. When I was able to let her know that many adjudicators are immigrants and some share her ethnicity she was relieved.”

The application form is twenty-one pages long. It is comprehensive and covers things such as personal and family history, number of children, any criminal records, education level, military experience, length of time in the US as well as any visits out of the country. Dates are required for every category on the application.

"At the completion of my last class, I asked my students to tell me in five words what it means to them to become citizens. The most frequent word cited was Freedom--freedom of speech, religion, the freedom to choose their own leaders and the opportunity to have a better life.

I have learned, as Saint Julie said, that we should teach our students what they need to know. I do this and find it a very rewarding ministry."

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