According to the American Immigration Council, Oklahoma is home to 218,432 immigrants. The percentage of change increase of foreign born population increased by 65.8% between 2000-2013 according to the Migration Policy Institute. As these numbers rise, the need for English language instruction and citizenship and immigration services continues to increase.
Statewide, literacy programs have reported 40%-60% increase in services to speakers of other languages. To meet this growing need, the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, in collaboration with libraries and literacy programs in three selected communities, launched a citizenship and immigration project.
Local literacy programs work closely with the public library to provide direction, technology assistance, and free classes or one-to-one tutoring. Participants may review citizenship study materials, practice listening and responding to citizenship interview questions, access online practice tests, and have guidance throughout the application process.
The term Citizenship Corner is being used across the country to indicate an area designated to serve non-native speakers. Grant sites established Citizenship Corners in ten libraries and one partner location in Oklahoma. These areas are marked with banners and displays and are equipped with computers with bookmarked websites, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services materials, and other materials that may be of interest.
Collaborations between libraries and literacy programs include:
- Great Plains Literacy Council and Southern Prairie Library System, serving Harmon and Jackson counties;
- Cleveland County Literacy Program and Pioneer Library System, serving Norman, Shawnee, and Purcell;
- Bartlesville Public Library Literacy Services and Bartlesville Public Library;
- Oklahoma City University, Master of Arts Program in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and Metropolitan Library System, serving Oklahoma County.
Each location developed a plan based on the needs of the community. Services include citizenship classes, conversation classes, English/Spanish classes, study pairs, one to one tutoring, brochures, and other outreach efforts and community collaborations.
Successes reported in the first phase of the project included 816 immigrants representing 35 countries, 38 new citizens, and 138 working on citizenship preparation.
Immigrants reported greater confidence and less fear as they participated in community affairs. Many of these new citizens expressed pride as they registered to vote and participated in elections.
Librarians reported feeling more assured and informed when making referrals and a greater appreciation for the individuals working to become US citizens.
According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services more than 55 percent of new Americans use the public library at least once a week. They find a trusted environment, resources, and community connections that can ease the way to full participation in American society. For many people, new to the US, libraries serve as a gateway to citizenship, English language learning, and civic engagement. Libraries offer educational materials and training resources on immigration and citizenship. This complicated and lengthy naturalization process is made easier by the combined efforts of literacy programs and libraries in Oklahoma.
The project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) which announced a national collaboration with USCIS to enhance the resources available in libraries throughout the country and strengthen the ability of librarians to guide immigrants to the most accurate and current information available. Concerning the national collaboration, former IMLS Director Susan Hildreth said, “We believe this partnership is a critical step toward making knowledge about the immigration process readily available and accessible to immigrant communities throughout the country, easing the process for others to become fellow Americans.” See more on IMLS and immigration.
The Great Plains Literacy Council and Southern Prairie Library System have reasons to celebrate! The two most recent adult learners who completed requirements for citizenship took the oath of allegiance to the United States during ceremonies in Lawton were Nathalie Garrison, native of France, and Mexico native Jose Luis Garcia.
“As these permanent residents traveled the road to citizenship, it required lots of study, commitment, and money,” said library director, Kathy Hale.
The SPLS and Great Plains Literacy Council provide direction, technology assistance, tutoring sessions and interview practice opportunities in preparation for the citizenship requirements. The project is supported by grant funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by Oklahoma Department of Libraries.
Bartlesville Public Library Literacy Services and the Bartlesville Public Library celebrated the success of three additional new citizens. Elvira Vaca from Ecuador, Jesus Cuellar from Mexico, and Sarat Grandhi from India traveled to Tulsa with their support group for the swearing in ceremony.
The recent kick-off of the Oklahoma City University (OCU)/Metropolitan Library System (MLS) citizenship project was held at Southern Oaks Library. The project, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, supports a collaborative effort between the two agencies that will provide assistance to immigrants pursuing citizenship.
The meeting was an opportunity for MLS librarians and students studying in OCU’s Master of Arts Program in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) to get acquainted and begin training in the naturalization process.
Participants were welcomed by Randy Wayland, MLS Regional Director, who also conducted a tour of the library to familiarize the group with the materials and resources available for use during the project.
OCU professor Dr. Robert Griffin described the university’s desire to enhance citizenship services in the metropolitan area. Students will be providing hours of instruction to complete their teaching practicum requirements.
Also addressing the group was US Citizenship and Immigration Community Relations Specialist Jesús Ramirez. Mr. Ramirez highlighted resources and materials available on the USCIS website and explained the naturalization process. He also warned of scams that take advantage of immigrants.
Weekly citizenship classes will be held at Southern Oaks Library, from 6:30-8:00 each Thursday, and Edmond Library, from 4:30-6:00 each Wednesday through April. Registration can be completed on the MLS website www.metrolibrary.org or by talking with a librarian.
Adult Citizenship Education Program
Forty-four individuals representing twenty five agencies from Oklahoma and Texas came together recently at theRonald J. Norick Downtown Library to learn how to assist immigrants seeking citizenship. Participants represented a wide range of agencies including public schools, adult learning centers, libraries, literacy programs, migrant services, and colleges and universities.
USCIS District 16 Field Office Director, Mark Seigl, welcomed the group. Community Relations Officer Jesús Ramirez of Dallas explained the naturalization process. Both men answered questions from the audience.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services Education Program Specialists traveled from Washington DC to provide the training. A variety of interactive strategies were modeled by the presenters, encouraging participants to engage immigrants in activities that reinforce learning.
New Classes Launched
After months of preparation and training, Oklahoma City University master’s level students in the Teaching English as a Second Language program have begun teaching classes at the Edmond Public Library on Wednesday evenings from 4:30-6:00 and at the Southern Oaks Library, Thursdays from 6:30-8:00. The fifteen week program at each library is open to anyone who would like assistance with the naturalization process. Classes meet through April.