Rosol Kadhim was so excited about the prospect of becoming a U.S. citizen that the Iraqi woman brought along her teacher, and now friend, for good luck and support as she attended a citizenship training event Saturday in Rock Island.
“I’m so scared and nervous. I don’t know what I’m doing,” Kadhim said as she waited her turn to learn about the citizenship application process.
Kadhim, who left Iraq 6 1/2 years ago — first for Syria and eventually the Quad-Cities — and her husband, Sefyan Noman, were among dozens of refugees and immigrants who attended the workshop hosted by World Relief. At times, the line went out the door as individuals, couples and families arrived at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center for help.
“She’d do well without me, she’s very self-sufficient,” Susan Sharar said of Kadhim. Sharar, a retired elementary teacher, met the family when she was a church volunteer and taught English to a group of refugees.
The first-time workshop, sponsored by a New Americas Initiative grant, paired volunteers with refugees or immigrants to go through a mock citizenship application process.
“We’re so excited to offer this,’’ said Amy Rowell, the director of World Relief, a Moline agency that helps resettle refugees in the Quad-Cities. “We’re going to see what information they still need to go through (a real application).”
Working patiently with people from a number of countries with just as many languages involved, the volunteers read each page of a thick application required by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Applicants must live in the United States for five years before applying.
That is why Kadhim, who now lives in Rock Island with her family, is very specific about her time living in the United States — “four years, six months,” she said.
She and her husband have two children, a 6 1/2-year-old son, Mohammad Mohammad, and a 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Farah Mohammad. Their daughter was born in the United States — making her a citizen upon her birth.
Ratko Rastovic, World Relief’s program director, said it can be a 10-month process from when the paperwork begins until the swearing-in ceremony for new citizens. In addition to filing the application, the prospective citizens will take a civics test, be fingerprinted and be tested on their reading and writing.
“We know there is a great need (for this help),” Rowell said. Volunteers were recruited from local churches as well as Augustana and Black Hawk colleges.
At one of the tables, volunteer Rhonda Bowling worked meticulously with Burma native Than Maung to fill out a mock application. Now 27 and living in Moline, Maung came to the United States not knowing any English when he arrived in North Carolina.
“He’s so organized, he has his records on his phone,” Bowling said as Maung easily communicated, filling out answers about past residences, job history and more. “This workshop is helping him.”
On occasion, Bowling would read an excerpt from the application and Maung would ask “can you explain that in simple English?”
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Maung, who works part time for a landscape company and is enrolled in adult education classes at Black Hawk College, wants his citizenship “so I can go back to Burma” to visit. He said if he returned now “the government can arrest me and throw me in jail. If I get citizenship, the U.S. government can protect me.”
Similarly, Kadhim hopes to return for a visit to see the family she left in Iraq. “I can’t go back to visit if I’m not a (U.S.) citizen.”
But she also wants to become a citizen to receive the right to vote and have a chance for a good job. Kadhim, who has applied for various jobs around the Quad-Cities, said, “For some, the green card is not enough.”
Rowell hopes they can offer the workshop twice a year. Those who had all their paperwork and materials in order were allowed to schedule an appointment with World Relief to fill out the actual citizenship paperwork.
Of the 75 attending Saturday, she estimated about 45 have follow-up appointments with Rastovic. For their actual interview for citizenship, the refugees must travel to Chicago, she said.
Sadly, she said so many refugees still cannot speak any English, which means they cannot apply yet.
“There was one family, we tried to help them, but they can’t understand us,” she said. Because of the language barrier, “they won’t understand the questions in the interview.”
Standing with Kadhim and her friend, Bowling, Rowell added, “if a family has an American friend, they are much more successful here.”