KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — One Kalamazoo woman was granted citizenship Friday afternoon right in her home after living in the United States for 35 years.
Raquel Vergara, an immigrant from El Salvador, came to the United States in 1980 with her two kids to escape a civil war. She was granted political asylum and received a work permit. Vergara first lived in California before moving to Michigan where she has resided for about 15 years.
“It’s not easy. When you leave your country, you leave everything behind. We were in a civil war and I didn’t want to go back. Everybody thinks that we come here and we ask for welfare or this or that, but no, we have to start all over again,” said Vergara.
Last year, Vergara worked with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, a part of the New Americans Campaign, a national coalition, to apply for citizenship. In February, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services came to Vergara’s home to conduct a citizenship exam and she passed with a perfect score. Prior to working with the organization, Vergara said she had trouble coming up with the money to become a citizen.
Vergara has been living in the Village of Sage Grove, a senior living home in Kalamazoo, for the past three years. On Friday, she was granted citizenship in the community room of the home among her peers.
“It’s a very special day for everybody. They have never seen something like this before. All these people here with me, it means so much,” Vergara said.
According to the New Americans Campaign, there are more than 13 million lawful permanent residents living in the United States, 8.8 million of which are eligible for citizenship. However, fewer than 10 percent of those residents naturalize each year.
“There are many obstacles. The cost is an obstacle for many people. It is $680 although fee waivers are available for a very small part of the population so cost is an obstacle and obviously it is required that you learn English and be able to pass the civics test and then it’s confusion and lack of familiarity with the process,” Susan Reed, a managing attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center told 24 Hour News 8.
The New Americans Campaign paid for Vergara’s citizenship costs.