In the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, one in which immigration reform was a key platform pitch, Gainesville citizenship classes are expected to see a spike in enrollment.
For the past eight years, the Latina Women’s League in Gainesville, a nonprofit, has offered classes to immigrants seeking naturalization. But now, with Trump’s inauguration set for Jan. 20, many prospective students fearing deportation are likely to enroll, said Ileana McCray, vice president and educational programs coordinator for the group.
“I think it’s a need we have seen in our community,” McCray said.
The next batch of classes, to take place at Millhopper Library Branch, will begin Jan. 26. The class, which usually has between six and 10 students, is free and focuses on the rights and duties of citizenship.
McCray said a pro-bono lawyer meets with the students to go over questions they may have about the citizenship process.
After taking a seven-session class that broke down the U.S. citizenship test in 2015, Polish immigrant Mateusz Buszko felt prepared.
“To have a human being to help interpret this document, which was black and
white and scary, was an incredible help,” he said, adding he waited more than 20 years before applying for U.S. citizenship.
Before taking the classes, Buszko said he didn’t know where to begin the whole process.
“I’ve been in America for a really long time, and I was intimidated by the experience of the citizenship test,” the 35-year-old Gainesville resident said.
The class prepared him and his classmates for taking a 10-question citizenship test and other parts of the application process, he said. A facilitator who spoke Spanish to those not fluent in English helped his classmates understand the material.
“I think there’s a sense of shared purpose and, honestly, a sense of shared fear,” he said.
Sol Ortega, 21, said her family struggled finding answers to the questions they had during the 14 years it took them to wade through the citizenship process. The UF political science and Spanish senior became a citizen in October, after leaving Peru in 2003.
“One thing I wish could change would be the access to resources,” Ortega said. “My parents had to figure it out just by word of mouth. There wasn’t a place they could go and ask questions without being afraid they would be deported.”
Buszko said he valued the help the class gave him in filling out the application packet and acquiring the documents he needed.
“I definitely owe my citizenship to the class,” he said. “This is one of the greatest resources they have in Gainesville.”