To be American

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, January 10, 2018

1. How many amendments does the Constitution have?

2. Who is one of your state’s U.S. Senators now?

3. If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?

4. Who is the Chief Justice of the United States now?

These are just a few of the questions candidates applying for citizenship in the U.S. are expected to know as they apply for naturalization.

Naturalization, the legal act by which a non-citizen of the country acquires citizenship, can be a daunting one.

However, in West Liberty one group of individuals is attempting to help immigrants through the entire process, even paying half of the $725 bill.

“It is our goal to make sure that all the adults are prepared when they make the trip to Des Moines to take the test,” says Carolyn Colvin.

Colvin was the initiator of the Citizen Initiative Project, citizenship classes that occur in West Liberty Middle School on Thursdays in the media center.

“As of December, we have held weekly classes for nine months and the attendance has been steady through the spring, summer and fall months,” she adds.

Colvin taught English as a Second Language in West Liberty for 25 years. She also taught immigrant adults in the community.

Since it began last year the program has had 12 applicants apply for citizenship successfully, a number they expect to grow in the years to come.

There are currently around 15 volunteers helping 20 to 30 adults prepare for the naturalization process and test that takes place in Iowa’s capitol of Des Moines.

The naturalization process includes an interview, during which officers ask immigrants questions about their application and background.

They’re also required to take a speaking test, reading test, writing test and a civics test regarding information about the United States.

To those of us born within the borders of the USA it may not seem like much, but to those that are just learning English… well, it can be tough.

But, the students in these classes are willing to do it.

“Because anyone seeking to become a naturalized citizen must speak English, the adults and teachers spend time talking in English about English vocabulary, pronunciation, etc,” says Colvin.

“In a wonderful turn of events, the adults who are waiting to be called to take the test have become teachers themselves as they help to prepare their neighbors for the test,” she says.

Typically, classes meet in small groups of around three to five students per teacher, practicing and discussing questions from the naturalization test.

They’re required to know the answers to 100 questions similar to those listed at the beginning of this story for the civics test.

They must successfully answer 6 of 10 randomly chosen questions on the day they interview and be able to demonstrate their ability to read, write, and speak in English.

However, the Citizen Initiative Project not only attempts to help those in West Liberty learn, it gives applicants $362 of the $725 citizenship fee.

It’s able to do so through donations from Ed and Dr. Carol Moreno, the Iowa State Education Association (our state teachers' union), First Church United and the West Liberty Community Foundation.

According to Carolyn Colvin, the program began through a series of wonderful coincidences after she submitted a proposal to the local chapter of LULAC.

LULAC stands for League of United Latin American Citizens. West Liberty has had an active chapter in town for years.

“Afterwards, I reached out to Carolyn on behalf of the West Liberty Education Association, our local teachers' union,” says Dan Stevenson, West Liberty Middle School.

“Our union has become increasingly active and engaged and we were looking for ways to support the wider West Liberty community,” he says.

LULAC met in January, 2017, and discussed the proposal with Colvin, Stevenson and Ed Moreno. Afterwards teaching recruitment began.

“Dan and Ed had worked to publicize the classes in the community and about five days later we began the classes with 35-40 interested adults who came to learn more about the classes and the process,” says Colvin.

Volunteers in the program are both teachers in the West Liberty Community School District and interested community members.

From the schools are Erica Jennings, Josh Levai-Baird, Danielle Hinkel, Katlyn Clark, Melanie Clark, Bob Nelson, Elizabeth Levai-Baird and Lupita Saucedo.

Community members include Michael Aragon, Richard Barajas, Nancy Gardner, Jan Koellner, Liz Norris, Lauren Darby and Clarity Guerra.

“A key part of our success is that we provide babysitting for the children of participants and volunteers,” says Dan Stevenson. “The high school Interact Club has provided volunteer babysitters all fall.”

The citizenship classes went on break during the holidays, but will resume on Thursday, Jan. 18.

To those that want to volunteer or participate email or call 319-627-2118. To those volunteers:

“The only requirement is a desire to help people work towards citizenship,” says Dan Stevenson.

Additionally, donations are always welcome. The Citizen Initiative Project program is a 501(c)(3) organization through LULAC, so all donations are tax deductible.

To learn more about the the naturalization process, visit

By the way, here are the answers to the questions at the beginning of the article. How did you do?

1. 27

2. Chuck Grassley or Joni Ernst

3. The Speaker of the House

4. John Roberts (John G. Roberts, Jr.)
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