Starting a Church-Based Citizenship Class Program
“To be a refugee is survival, to be an immigrant is opportunity, to be a citizen is contribution.” -Anonymous
Each year, thousands of refugees and immigrants in Minnesota are preparing to become United States citizens. Prospective citizens must pass a rigorous test of English language and literacy, and United States history and government. A church-based citizenship class program to prepare refugees and immigrants to pass the citizenship test is one way the church can offer tangible help and demonstrate Jesus’ love, walking alongside their refugee and immigrant neighbors in the journey from stranger to citizen.
A church-based citizenship class program typically meets once a week for ten weeks, providing a structured environment for volunteers to form friendships that can continue outside of the classroom with refugees and immigrants who may never have heard the Gospel. This is a great “get-your-feet-wet” opportunity for volunteers new to cross-cultural ministry, as the class provides guided interaction with a finite, achievable goal in mind. Hardly anything is more inspiring than celebrating with students as they are sworn in as new US citizens at a naturalization ceremony!
World Relief Minnesota has successfully trained church teams in a citizenship class model that utilizes both up-front lecture from an experienced teacher and one-on-one tutoring time with volunteers. We have found this model maximizes the benefits an experienced teacher can bring with the relational connection that comes through those who offer one-on-one tutoring.
If your church is interested in starting a citizenship class program, World Relief
Minnesota first recommends doing some basic research to make sure citizenship classes are needed in your local community by askingthe following questions:
1. Are refugees/immigrants in our community eligible to apply for citizenship?
In order to be eligible, refugees/immigrants must be permanent residents (green card holders) for 5 years. If your community is mostly comprised of undocumented immigrants or populations who have been in the US a very short or very long time, they might not need the service. A good way to find out what the refugee/immigrant population is like in your area is to talk to the multicultural liaison or ESL coordinator at your local school or school district.
2. Are there other citizenship classes already serving our area?
You can find out by looking on the Minnesota Literacy Council website for citizenship class listings: http://www.mnliteracy.org/hotline.
3. Do the refugees/immigrants in our community speak enough English to be able to pass the test?
US Immigration requires that new citizens must be able to read, speak and write basic English in order to pass the citizenship test. If your local community consists of people with a very low English level, ESL and literacy classes may be a better stepping stone toward citizenship and a better place for you to invest the time and talents of the people in your church.
If your church answers the questions above affirmatively, you should also determine if your church has the logistical capacity to launch your own citizenship class program. The logistical considerations for starting a citizenship class program include:
1. Committed volunteer leadership
World Relief strongly recommends that interested churches have a team of 2-4 committed volunteers to provide leadership for the citizenship class program. These volunteers would serve in the two main roles of Citizenship Class Teacher and Citizenship Class Coordinator.
The teacher position focuses on the education portion of the class: curriculum development, lesson-planning, classroom teaching and in-class guidance for volunteer tutors (often times the teacher is a retired school teacher or one with a strong civics, ESL and/or communication background).
The coordinator position focuses on the logistical and relational side of the class: publicity, student and volunteer recruitment, volunteer orientation and encouragement, classroom set-up and general administrative oversight.
World Relief Minnesota can provide detailed volunteer job descriptions for interested churches. We recommend churches ask this volunteer leadership team to make a commitment of at least one year.
2. Ongoing volunteers interested in one-on-one tutoring
Churches need to have a pool of 5-20 volunteers (depending on anticipated class size) who are willing to make a weekly commitment for the duration of each 10-week class.
3. Weekly space to host classes
Churches need a space where students and tutors can hear each other and the teacher easily, and includes desks or tables that can comfortably seat all students and volunteers, a white board, room to socialize and room for tea/coffee and snacks.
Support from World Relief Minnesota
World Relief Minnesota can provide free training for churches who want to start their own citizenship class program. We provide quarterly or semi-annual trainings, depending on interest. As we have a Board of Immigration Appeals-accredited immigration legal services program, we can also serve as a referral source for students who want legal representation and paperwork support on the citizenship application. Our immigration legal service department can provide an in-class presentation for students about the citizenship application process.
If your church is interested in starting a citizenship class program,
contact Christine Burton,
Director of Immigration Legal Services,
at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-243-2971.