Paving a path to citizenship

Free courses at the North Bergen library help prep for naturalization tests

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Federal grants will assist the township's lawful permanent residents.
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The classes are open to North Bergen and Guttenberg residents.
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Federal grants will assist the township's lawful permanent residents.
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The classes are open to North Bergen and Guttenberg residents.

The North Bergen Public Library offers free courses to help local permanent residents prepare for their U.S. citizenship tests. They must pass the test to achieve full citizenship status.

The library is one of a handful in Hudson County using grants from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Homeland Security. Those grants are for a 15-week curriculum that prepares residents for the USCIS test that can be their path to the rights that citizenship provides.

According to USCIS, the 2018 funds for classes included 40 organizations in 19 states. USCIS spent $9.4 million to provide materials and resources to run the courses.

Since it started in 2009, the program has helped more than 200,000 permanent residents nationwide. Grants are competitive based on a number of qualifying factors, especially past performance with federal grants.

Like the test, courses focus on English fluency and knowledge of U.S. history and civics.

“Many of our students have said that this class helps give them that sense of belonging and attachment to the U.S.” — Sai Rao

Sai Rao, the library’s executive director, said the USCIS program has benefited classes the library had been offering before grants shifted things to high gear. Since last year, the library has increased the number of educators certified by the program.

“We’ve been doing very basic courses centered around ESL (English as a second language) for a very long time, for several years,” Rao said. “Last year, we received the grant from USCIS. We had a basic class that went on every weekend, but now we have a much more robust curriculum with qualified instructors to make assimilation easier. The one-on-one sessions with students have been especially helpful.”

Since its inception, the program has become an important stepping stone to citizenship.

“Many of our students have said that this class helps give them that sense of belonging and attachment to the U.S.,” Rao said.

Full-fledged support

North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco and Commissioner Hugo Cabrera stopped by the library on Feb. 23 to offer support to the library’s current class.

“I just wanted to stop by and thank you for taking part in our programs,” Sacco said. “I congratulate you for taking the first step in your journey to becoming U.S. citizens and for doing your part to make our country and community even stronger.”

Cabrera said, “We are very excited to have you and look forward to you becoming fully naturalized citizens of the United States and accomplishing your dream of building a better life for your family.”

The 15-week course runs throughout the year; the library is currently conducting its fourth class.

So far, enrollment numbers are consistently in the dozens. The current class serves roughly 60 residents.

The next round of registration for citizenship classes is currently underway. The registration deadline is April 18, and classes begin April 19. A green card and $50 refundable attendance deposit are required. The classes will take place at the main library and the Guttenberg Resource Center.

The main library is located at 8411 Bergenline Ave. The Guttenberg Resource Center is downstairs in the Galaxy Towers Mall at 7002 Boulevard East. For more information call 201-869-4715 or visit www.nbpl.org.

For updates on this and other stories keep check hudsonreporter.com or follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com.