Immigrants And Refugees
Immigrants and Refugees

International Center Preps New Citizens, Helps Immigrants Navigate American Life

Immigration Consultation, Catholic Charities New York

You say you bleed red, white and blue and are as American as can be?

Try to answer these citizenship questions, without Google, Siri, or Echo assistance:

Who was President during World War I? How many amendments are in the constitution? Why does the flag have 13 stripes? Who is the Chief Justice?*

Assisting applicants to pass the citizenship test is just one slice of the services offered by the International Center, located in downtown Manhattan at 80 Maiden Lane. It provides education for immigrants in the city and the Hudson Valley.

“It’s a lot of work. There are lots of skills they have to demonstrate,” said Elaine Roberts, Director of Programs. Besides the citizenship test preparation, the center also provides English as a second language training and other classes on navigating American life.

The Center, a part of Catholic Charities Community Services, has adapted to life with Covid. Zoom classes are particularly popular, as they help fit into the busy lives of students, cutting back on commuting time while also fulfilling family and work responsibilities. As a result, the remote classes will continue even if the city fully emerges into a post-Covid era.

Much of the work is bolstering confidence, making immigrants comfortable in using English as well as understanding civics and the ways of life in modern New York.

Nadia Lahsine of Queens, a native of Morocco, completed her citizenship requirements with the assistance of the International Center in February of this year. Barbara, her volunteer teacher, regularly called her and practiced what she needed to know. Nadia completed the process while navigating a series of personal crises, including the recent death of her mother-in-law.

Nadia said her citizenship exam teacher provided excellent instruction, going over the questions (there are 100, with the answers available on the U.S. government immigration website. Successful completion of the exam requires answering six out of 10 correctly).

“He talks to you so you can remember,” said Nadia. The lessons involve not just the rote answers, but an explanation of American history and civics. Questions on the exam require knowledge ranging from George Washington to Martin Luther King.

At 48, Nadia has been in the U.S. for the past 22 years, and it has taken decades to achieve her dream of citizenship.    

Elaine Roberts noted that training for immigrants at the International Center can include the citizenship test, often the last stop in an extended process. Immigrants also learn English, writing skills and vocabulary.

For Nadia, the services were a godsend. “I appreciated everything,” she said about her experience with the International Center.

*Answers: Woodrow Wilson, 27, representing the original colonies, John Roberts.