Las Vegas Sun

March 18, 2019

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Culinary union’s workshop helps immigrants navigate complex process of citizenship

The Culinary Workers Union’s “Citizenship Fair” on Saturday in Las Vegas featured immigration experts offering free consulting services for members and their families who are eligible to obtain American citizenship, or those who are curious on the steps to qualify.

Organizers hoped to simplify the often-complicated process, which includes plenty of paperwork.

Many of the 250 attendees cycled through the various stations that stretched throughout the union’s central location at 1630 South Commerce Street. The fair was organized by Culinary Union, Local 226, The Citizenship Project and UNITE HERE.

Maria Cristina Alvarado, 55, immigrated from Guatemala about 10 years ago and said she obtained legal residency about five years ago. She yearns for the opportunity to become a citizen, and ultimately a voter in this country.

“It’s important to become a citizen. We come to this country to do positive things,” Alvarado said. “Citizenship allows us opportunities and rights. Just as it gives us rights, it also gives us responsibilities.”

She said the nation’s current immigration policy has inspired her to have a voice through casting a vote.

“I would like to participate to help other people that hope to move forward in this country,” she said, “It’s not fair. This country is made up of immigrants. So we have to help those who came here after us.”

Nevada State Senator Yvanna Cancela of the Citizenship Project said citizenship is “the most fundamental American right” and provides a peace of mind.

Filling out the application forms can be complicated, and fees for legal aid, can be increasingly expensive, said organizer Ashenafi Hagezom, 27. Most immigrants would still have to pay the $700-plus application fee, but others might qualify for fee waivers, and volunteers on Saturday were available to help them find out if they qualified.

Some unionized properties also offer programs that cover the fees, Hagezom said.

The fair included information on the civics test that must be passed to become a citizen.

Ana Salazar, a staffer with the union, said she studied for three months, learned dozens of facts and was ultimately only asked five questions. Some immigrants are intimidated by government offices, she said.

Now, she’s been in the U.S. for 39 years and has been a citizen for about 17 years.

“I have the right to vote. I have to make my own decision on who runs this country,” Salazar said.

Alvarado imagines what it will be like when she takes the next steps in the path to citizenship.

“I think becoming a U.S. citizen will bring great excitement,” she said. “I feel very happy to live in this country, and becoming a citizen will be another dream come true.”





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