Immigration and Citizenship Services
According to the American Immigration Council as of 2015, Oklahoma is home to 235,350 immigrants. The foreign-born population in our state increased 65.8% between 2000 and 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.
To meet this growing need, the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, in collaboration with libraries and literacy programs 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 receive 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.
Libraries and literacy programs currently funded and participating in the citizenship project include:
- Great Plains Literacy Council and Southern Prairie Library System, serving Harmon and Jackson counties;
- Bartlesville Public Library Literacy Services and Bartlesville Public Library;
- Community Literacy Centers, Inc. and Metropolitan Library System, serving Oklahoma County.
- Rogers County Literacy Council and Claremore Public Library
- Duncan Area Literacy Council and Duncan Public Library
- Ardmore Public Library
- Lawton Public Library
- Guymon Public Library and Arts Center
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.
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.
Citizenship Celebration Photos
Featured Citizenship Programs
The Southern Prairie Library System and the Great Plains Literacy Council (GPLC) are partners in providing basic literacy training, ESL tutoring, and citizenship assistance in Southwestern Oklahoma. Since 2010 the literacy council has assisted immigrants seeking U.S. Citizenship. Since 2014 funds from the ODL Immigration and Citizenship Grant Program has provided funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences for two part-time bilingual literacy staff to concentrate on this effort. Approximately 95% of the Council’s adult learners are ESL students and 35% are studying to obtain citizenship.
The pathway to citizenship is time consuming and expensive. GPLC strives to make this journey as easy as possible by providing access to both print and online materials that appeal to the different learning styles of adults—visual, audio, and kinesthetic—along with computers and printers dedicated to the USCIS website for tutorials, testing, and forms. Citizenship Corners are located at the Altus and Hollis public libraries and contain all of the resources necessary for this process, including bilingual materials provided to prepare immigrants for the Naturalization Test.
They offer bilingual community programs to provide immigrant information and encourage citizenship students to start the process. They also produce social media promotions as well as print and broadcast publicity for support, recruitment, celebrating the success of our new citizens, and encouraging them to “Tell Their Own Stories.”
Once they achieve their goals, they produce local citizenship recognition events to celebrate their achievements. The citizenship project has assisted 45 adult learners from 14 different countries to become citizens of the United States.
Bartlesville Public Library Literacy Services (BPLLS) collaborated with the library staff and applied for a grant as a pilot site when ODL initiated the Immigration and Citizenship project in 2014. In an effort to welcome immigrants, a display window was created, designated equipment was set aside, and an instructor was hired.
BPLLS has been helping immigrants become United States citizens since 2012. Since inception of the Immigration and Citizenship project in 2014, the service has helped numerous immigrants from 50 countries become U.S. citizens. They have also had hundreds of adult learners come through the program to learn to speak, read, and write English so they can be prepared to begin the Citizenship Classes.
The library’s Citizenship Corner brings many visitors upstairs to see what the Citizenship Program is all about. They enjoy looking at the Citizenship Wall of Honor, which features photos of learners who have become U.S. citizens. Learners are so excited to have their photographs displayed. In fact, a learner who was standing at the wall looking at the photos recently exclaimed, “Soon my picture will be on the Wall of Honor! I’m so excited! I can’t wait!”
Families, friends, community supporters, library and literacy staff, co-workers, government representatives, and newspaper and television crew were on hand to celebrate the Grand Opening of the Citizenship Corner at Duncan Public Library. According to Mary Brancich, director of the Duncan Area Literacy Council, “The Citizenship Corner will provide resources and help for immigrants in our community who want to pursue citizenship.”
The highlight of the celebration was welcoming new citizens Mila, Lupe, Patricia, Lola and Maria. The women have attended English language classes taught by instructor, Nancy Litsch who is a volunteer for the Duncan Area Literacy Council. Litsch recognized the desire of the women to become citizens and expanded the class to include citizenship instruction.
The new citizens are long-time residents of Duncan and have contributed to the community as employees at the hospital, Legal Shield, eldercare and as business owners and community volunteers. They are looking forward to being able to fully participate in community affairs and anticipate being able to cast their first vote in the November elections.
Representative Marcus McEntire commended the library and literacy council for seeing the needs of immigrants in Duncan. He presented proclamations to each of the new citizens.
In 2019, the Lawton Public Library secured a Citizenship Corner grant to better meet the needs of area immigrants seeking American citizenship. The grant has allowed the library to offer materials and instruction to help community members prepare for the citizenship test and learn about American culture and the naturalization process. The Library hopes that the program will eventually have graduates who are sworn in at the Lawton International Festival citizenship ceremony.
In 2016, the Metropolitan Library System developed Citizenship Corners in two branches. The branches promote the services they provide to non-native speakers and have hosted citizenship classes since that time. The welcoming atmosphere and friendliness of the library staff has encouraged attendance and growth of the program. Instructors for the class are from Community Literacy Centers, Inc.
The Rogers County Literacy Program with partners Will Rogers Library, St. Cecilia Catholic Church, Catoosa Public Library, Northeast Technology Center, City of Claremore (Claremore Community Center) and Claremore First Methodist Church have provided citizenship services to immigrants seeking to become citizens of the US since 2017.
Reports ending in 2019 showed twenty-three (23) learners gave evidence of improvement via United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) practice tests. Learners improved in speaking and understanding English by oral questioning and answering, especially using USCIS flashcards. Learners took turns reading aloud from texts and in participating in mock interviews. Learners showed great improvement in confidence. Mock interviews were particularly effective in helping learners improve their confidence.
Despite setbacks from COVID, the Ardmore Public Library had an outstanding year for citizenship. Twenty-one students enrolled and completed the course with nineteen submitting N-400 applications. Six have passed the interview and received their citizenship with the remaining students awaiting biometrics or interviews.
New to the grant program in 2021, Guymon Library provides a central location where immigrants can find resources and personal assistance in their pursuit of citizenship. The library provides computer and printing services designated for the immigrant population along with a shredder to insure confidentiality. Librarians provide assistance to those seeking help. The library hopes to work with local businesses and organizations to engage the community in the process to promote citizenship services.
Questions? Contact the Literacy Resource Office.