WASHINGTON, Iowa (GTNS) ? Oscar Hernandez recalls coming to the United States from his home country of Mexico 23 years ago. He was 18 at the time and entered the country illegally.
On Wednesday, June 27, Hernandez and Rachel Wildenborg, a fellow U.S. Citizen Class student, celebrated their new citizen status with their fellow classmates. Their peers, who helped prepare them for the citizenship test, toasted them with non-alcoholic wine.
As an undocumented immigrant, Hernandez said he didn?t feel different from anyone he met, just that his options were limited. ?You have to find jobs where you don?t have to use legal papers,? he said. ?Like construction or restaurants, they require you to be legal. The jobs Americans don?t want to work, the hard jobs, those are the ones you have to take.?
Eventually, Hernandez married an American and received his residency card. However, with the current political climate, Hernandez, decided it was time to become a U.S. citizen. ?Laws are changing and Trump is pushing illegal immigrants to the border and keeping the kids,? he said. ?I want my people to hear my voice. I want to be counted for what is going on in the country.?
The road to citizenship took a year. During that time, he attended citizen classes offered by Latinos for Washington in the Washington Public Library.
While living in the U.S., Hernandez has had to renew his permanent residency registration ? informally called a green card ? every 10 years. He felt it was time to be come a citizen. The test itself was easy, Hernandez said. The tough part were the countless hours he and his fellow students spent studying the material.
His cohort, Wildenborg, recalls a different road to U.S. citizenship. The Israel native met her husband in 1987 while he was volunteering abroad. He returned to Israel three times, but when Wildenborg tried to visit the United States, she was unable to get a visa. Instead, the two met in Canada. He later sent her an engagement visa and eventually the two were married in San Diego, Calif.
Wildenborg began taking the citizenship classes in October 2017 and became an American citizen in April. ?I saw in The Journal they had classes for citizenship so I joined. My husband told me to just do it and be done with it.?
She said that she travels to Israel a lot. She also said that every year it is a chore coming back so she decided to just become a citizen after 32 years in the United States. As a citizen, Wildenborg is excited to vote and to help choose who will run the country. She also said her future plans are just to continue living her life as she has.
Hernandez said his plans are to continue working and retire someday.
Those looking to take the citizenship test can still take the class at the library, however longtime instructor Colleen Sheely will not be returning, as she is moving to Indian. Sonya Leyva, of Latinos For Washington, has said that the group is looking for a new instructor for the classes.