Maria Velasco Taps into Erie House Resources to Become U.S. Citizen

July 29, 2015 | Chicago, IL

Maria Velasco

Filipina-American Maria Velasco became naturalized as a U.S. citizen on May 27, 2015.

The path to U.S. citizenship is never an easy journey. For Maria Velasco, it has been a sojourn that took her halfway around the world and spanned the better part of a decade.

Velasco immigrated to the United States from her native Philippines in 2007 after her sister, a naturalized citizen living in Maryland at the time, was granted a family petition by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office.

Almost eight years later, on May 27, 2015, Velasco participated in a naturalization ceremony here in Chicago and became a U.S. citizen. “At last,” she says, her voice filled with equal parts joy and relief. “It has been seven whole years. I’m so, so happy.”

Velasco began the formal process of applying for citizenship at a workshop hosted at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. “I didn’t know where to go (to find the help I needed),” she recalls. A friend pointed her toward Erie Neighborhood House, which in turn encouraged her to attend the workshop earlier this year. 

Part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Office of New Americans (ONA) initiative, the free workshop was conducted by staff and volunteers from Erie Neighborhood House as well as other immigrant-serving organizations in the city. The workshops allow for service providers to extend limited resources to a broader population, delivering free consultation and preparation services that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars in a for-profit setting.

And even in spite of the size and scope of the workshops, participants encounter staff and volunteers who are eager to lend a hand.

“They were such nice people,” says Velasco, who lives in Edgewater and works as a home care provider for senior adults. “They helped me fill out all of the forms and produce the paperwork necessary to apply for citizenship.”

The process can take several months, culminating in a 100-question naturalization exam and face-to-face interview. In order to prepare for the test, Velasco took advantage of resources recommended by Erie House staff. “I studied very hard, so I felt pretty confident,” she says. As for the interview, Velasco didn’t worry too much: “‘Just be yourself,’ they told me.”

The day of her naturalization was a joyous occasion for Velasco, who snapped a photo of herself after the ceremony and sent it to staff at Erie House. “I was so happy,” she says. “I just wanted to be able to share my happy moment with everyone.”

Erie House Citizenship & Immigration program coordinator Jane Lombardi says citizenship is a significant milestone for immigrants like Velasco. “It opens many doors,” she explains. “Citizenship allows immigrants to have a voice—to be able to vote in elections and choose their elected officials. Citizens are also able to petition for more family members so they can be reunited with loved ones.”

Lombardi also cites the economic impact of citizenship. “Citizens tend to find better and higher paying jobs, which is good for the economy and community as a whole,” she says.

In addition to workshops like the one Velasco participated in at Wright College, Erie House offers walk-in consultations on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 1347 W. Erie St. Lombardi advises that there is a $30 initial fee for these consultations, and appointments are on a first-come, first-served basis.

Services provided include assistance with the citizenship naturalization process, family petitions, DACA applications, green card renewals, and immigration assistance for victims of domestic abuse and other crimes. For more information, please email or call (312) 666-3430.



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