Kansas City Public Library has team dedicated to helping immigrants become citizens

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Kansas City Public Library has a unique approach to helping those who are new to the city.

Its Refugee and Immigrant Services & Empowerment (RISE) program is one of the only library teams in the country solely focused on the goal of connecting immigrants to resources, like prepping for the citizenship test.

The library's free citizenship preparation classes are fairly new. It is one of at least a dozen organizations in the metro that provides those services, but they say they saw a need within their patron base.

"It's really building community at a basic level," Daniel Russo with RISE said. "A lot of our students are either business owners themselves or hard workers."

Barbara Martinez is taking advantage of the library's help.

"I want to know the history from this country to learn everything I can to be ready for the test," Martinez said.

She left Cuba for Kansas City nearly five years ago.

"In Cuba, the political, the life, the opportunity is not good for everybody," she said.

Taking the oath to become a U.S. citizen is the final step in a long, often exhaustive journey. It can take longer than a decade and cost thousands of dollars.

People like Martinez have to first become a permanent resident before taking the citizenship test with USCIS - in other words, get their Green Card. That can take years, depending on eligibility.

From there, you wait another three to five years before you can apply for citizenship. It costs around $700. If immigration officials process the application, you go in for an interview.

Jeremy Petterson is a volunteer instructor. He likes to make diagrams and speak only English in his classes, while quizzing students on American history, government and geography.

"I don't think Americans realize how rigorous it is. I mean, not only do you have to pass a 100-question test on civics, you also have to do an interview. The interview is very probing. They can ask whatever questions they want," said Petterson.

A USCIS officer will test folks on their basic understanding of English. While students study 100 questions, they'll only be asked 10.

Click here to see the questions. 

"My hope is that by helping them, they can become citizens. And hopefully this isn't their last chance to do this. Hopefully we'll have plenty of chances in the future," Petterson said.

"These folks have a lot to offer our communities and it only makes sense to integrate them further," Russo said.

Martinez still has more studying to do, but she's confident in her future.

"I'm really proud to be here, and to try to know a new thing, a new style of life," she said. 

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