“I really had a wonderful Saturday[…]I enjoyed figuring out the passport pictures station and trying my hand at the N-400. It’s really amazing what can be accomplished for these people with that support.” – Mary
This past Saturday, while most of my friends were still sleeping, I was catching the Red Line from the suburbs to Truman College on Chicago’s North side. Once a month United African Organization (UAO), in partnership with other immigrant organizations across the city of Chicago, runs a completely free citizenship workshop for Permanent Residents interested in applying for Naturalized US citizenship. I was lucky enough to attend one.
At 8am we rearranged the Truman College cafeteria into easy-to-follow color-coded stations, red, yellow, blue, and green. After a delicious breakfast of donuts, bagels, and coffee, I took my position at a blue table and prepared to help eligible clients tackle the newly adapted N-400 naturalization application. One by one people filed into the cafeteria and sat down with our attorneys to discuss their eligibility for naturalization. After a few minutes or so those who had been approved were sent to me and nine other volunteers to tackle the remaining paperwork. Over the course of roughly three hours the other volunteers and I had the opportunity to help people from all over the world begin the process of obtaining their own American Dream.
At first the responsibility was nerve-racking, but as the day went on I became more and more comfortable with the paperwork, and as result began to really understand just how much impact we were having on people’s lives. Throughout the day I met people from Ghana, Colombia, Pakistan, and Mexico, all extremely grateful for the work we were doing on their behalf. Guiding the applicants through the forms I was able to listen to some truly amazing stories from some truly amazing people.
Finally, as if the experience wasn’t fulfilling enough, the day ended in a fabulous feast of local Ethiopian food. Looking back, I can say that this was truly a wonderful experience and that I would highly encourage anyone who is interested to come and help out the next time around.
Our next workshops will be Saturday September 27th and Saturday November 1st at Truman College. Hopefully we will see you there!
Email Sondra Furcajg at Sondra.firstname.lastname@example.org for more information regarding volunteer opportunities.
Written by Lance Greenberg, Summer 2014 Intern
“UAO is a very good organization that has made sure everybody has opportunities. They are very graceful and understanding. UAO is like family to Africans in Chicago”- Matthew
When he was a child, Matthew came to the United Sates from his home country of Kenya and, through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA), has been able to lead a happy and prosperous American life. After speaking with Matthew for only a few minutes it became clear that he has taken full advantage of the DACA program, and has continued to work hard towards his own version of the American Dream. DACA, he says, has allowed him to work and go to school here in Chicago, for which he is very grateful. In addition, Matthew made it very clear that DACA status has put him at ease when it comes to the thought of deportation, allowing him to focus on the more important things in life like friends and family. While Matthew does admit that DACA is not written in stone, and that the next administration following Obama’s departure may potentialyl choose to discontinue the program, he chooses to have just as much faith in America as it has had in him. DACA, he says, has allowed him to get a taste of the American Dream, and hopes that one day he can contribute to his community as a full United States citizen.
Friday August 15th will mark the two-year anniversary of the release of the DACA. Put in place by the Obama administration in June of 2012, the program is one example of the administration’s commitment to immigration reform- a hot topic among policy makers in Washington today. As our last blog post announced, Obama and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson recently renewed the DACA program allowing persons who qualify to remain in the United States without fear of deportation for another two years, and opening the doors to a handful of opportunities for undocumented immigrants who otherwise live in fear of the American government day in, and day out.
Recent USCIS statistics have shown that there are over 32,000 DACA applicants in the State of Illinois alone, making it the state with the 3rd largest number of total applicants in the country. While numbers indicate that close to 1,200 Nigerians applied for DACA nationwide, they are the only African nation to crack the list of the top 30 most applicants per country (Mexico tops the list at 443,500 applicants). Among the individuals who received DACA status after applying at the time of its survey, USCIS specified that 59% of DACA recipients have obtained new jobs, 21% have internships, 49% opened a bank accounts, 33% were granted a credit card, 21% obtained healthcare, and 45% overall increased their job earnings.
Here at UAO, we are committed to the advancement of all immigrants, and as a result have spent some time exploring how DACA has affected members of our own African community here in Chicago.
For more information on applying for DACA status we encourage you to reference our previous blog post and visit USCIS at the following link: http://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/consideration-deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-daca.
Written by Lance Greenberg, Summer 2014 Intern
UAO Citizenship & Immigration Coordinator Sondra Furcajg was a perfect fit. A native French speaker, experienced human rights volunteer in Africa and licensed attorney all in one, Furcajg has worked hard over the past year to improve and expand the citizenship program and legal services offered by UAO.
When Furcajg began in February of 2013, UAO did not provide any legal services outside of the monthly Free Citizenship Workshop. However, in response to increased demand from the Illinois African community, Furcajg had an innovative solution. “We started getting all these calls for other types of legal services. The response before I came on board was to refer these clients out to another organization. But then I said wait a minute, a lot of [our clients] speak French and could benefit from a French-speaking attorney advocating on their behalf. So I started taking these cases,” she said.
A holder of both French and American citizenship, Furcajg has lived in Chicago for the past four years. Before joining UAO in 2013, she volunteered at a refugee camp in Ghana. She also spent a year in Tanzania working for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
For Furcajg, the security and permanency of citizenship are among the most compelling reasons for African immigrants and refugees to apply for naturalization. “When you have your green card, things can happen where it can get revoked. Citizenship is permanent. There is a sense of security for you and your children,” she said.
Despite the many successes since Furcajg’s arrival at UAO, outreach still remains the greatest obstacle facing the citizenship program and legal services. “If more people knew about our services, they would come to us first. Maybe we can help them. Maybe we refer them. At UAO, our clients always receive quality service and the right information,” she said.
The next Free Citizenship Workshop will take place at Truman College on Saturday, April 26th from 9 am until 11 am. If you or anyone you know is interested in UAO’s legal or citizenship services, please contact Sondra Furcajg at 312-949-9980.
by Max Woxland, UAO Intern