While countless public libraries have a webpage listing local and national naturalization resources, the Kansas City (MO) Public Library (KCPL) is one of the only public libraries to form a program and team specifically designed to help immigrants become citizens. KCPL created the Refugee & Immigrant Services & Empowerment (RISE) program to help connect local immigrants with quality services and resources through outreach, education, and advocacy. Julie Robinson, the refugee and immigration services outreach manager said, “In many countries, people don’t have the option of going to the library. This is their first experience and they don’t understand what they can gain from a library.”
The library started a free citizenship preparation class when they saw a need in their patron base. The classes teach basic U.S. history, offers a review of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) “100 Questions,” and lets participants practice the citizenship exam and interview.
Becoming a U.S. citizen is a long process and can cost thousands of dollars. Immigrants have to first become a permanent resident and get their Green Card and then wait three to five years before they can apply for citizenship. Once the application is processed and approved, the next step is an interview with a USCIS officer, who will test applicants’ basic understanding of English and ask ten of the 100 possible questions (six of the ten must be answered correctly).
Although people need advanced English skills to participate in the citizenship class, the library also provides free English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, which teach basic English reading, writing, and conversation skills. ESL classes can be the first step to prepare for citizenship courses for immigrants with little English knowledge. “A lot of our students are either business owners themselves or hard workers,” said Daniel Russo with RISE. “These folks have a lot to offer the community and it only makes sense to integrate them farther.”
As of December 2014, the US labor force had absorbed 25.7 million immigrants. Some of these are highly skilled workers filling the talent shortage gap. An Abilene Christian University resource states that out of the 35.7 million immigrants living in the United States aged 25 and older, 28 percent have gained at least a bachelor’s degree. Modern businesses have discovered that diversity in the workplace can spur innovation, boost productivity, and cultivate loyalty among staff without compromising service delivery or revenue growth. According to a recent academic study, over 25 percent of U.S. businesses are owned by minorities. Additionally, 77 percent of CEOs stated that workplace diversity improved customer satisfaction, while 75 percent credit it with addressing emerging consumer needs effectively.
Without the help of public librarians, many of these immigrants may have never been able to pass the citizenship test or find permanent jobs. The United States is a melting pot of races and ethnicities, and the public library has become a sanctuary for these immigrants to access the Internet and resources as well as connect with their new communities.