After 35 Years, ‘I’m a Citizen!’

Last month we shared the story of Raquel Vergara, 76, a Salvadorian immigrant who came to the United States 35 years ago seeking refuge from civil war. She received her green card in 1988. When Raquel realized it was up for renewal in 2016, she knew it was time to make a change.

Raquel celebrates with the USCIS officer who traveled from Detroit to grant her citizenship.

Raquel celebrates with the USCIS officer who traveled from Detroit to grant her citizenship

“I always said this time around, if I’m still alive by then, I deserve to be a citizen instead of renewing my green card,” Raquel said. “This is my country. I’m not going anywhere.”

Although homebound, Raquel completed her citizenship application with the help of New Americans Campaign partner Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. The center also helped her apply for a fee waiver, saving Raquel the $680 application cost. Nearly a year after United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) accepted her application, Raquel received an interview date for her citizenship exam. In February, she passed the exam with a perfect score at an interview conducted at her assisted living facility in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Of the 8.8 million lawful permanent residents eligible to become U.S. citizens, less than 10 percent do so every year due to barriers including the high application cost, language difficulties and paperwork. But Raquel’s story proves that those barriers are not insurmountable.

On April 3, Raquel was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. Her oath of citizenship ceremony, like her interview earlier, took place at her home at the Village of Sage Grove. Seated in the community room and surrounded by friends singing the national anthem, Raquel swore her oath to the U.S. and finally could proclaim: “Same as you … I’m a citizen!” Watch her inspiring story on this newscast on WOOD TV8.

Raquel performs her oath of citizenship

Raquel recites her oath of citizenship

Susan Reed, supervising attorney at MIRC, helped Raquel apply for citizenship. She celebrated with Raquel at her citizenship ceremony.

Susan Reed, the supervising attorney at MIRC who helped Raquel apply for citizenship, celebrated with Raquel at her citizenship ceremony

Raquel celebrates with the USCIS officer who traveled from Detroit to grant her citizenship.

Raquel celebrates with the USCIS officer who traveled from Detroit to grant her citizenship


Everyone at the Village of Sage Grove was invited to celebrate Raquel’s special day

Posted on April 6, 2015

Our Impact

  • The Campaign has completed over 3,700 naturalization workshops and clinics.
  • Over 250,000 citizenship applications completed since July 2011.

    Saved aspiring citizens and their families over $206million in legal and application fees.
  • Adopted scalable technology. MP3 players, Google Voice, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services are being used to enhance naturalization service delivery.
  • Expanded New American Workforce (an effort to provide naturalization assistance within corporations) which has partnered with over 100 businesses across the nation, ranging from hotels in Miami to American Apparel in Los Angeles.
  • Deployed Citizenshipworks, an online tool, across the Campaign in multiple settings and languages. A newly redesigned platform guides applicants through through their citizenship application from start to finish and connects applicants to legal help at partnering non-profits.
  • Were instrumental in inspiring the US Citizenship and Immigration Service to support the Citizenship Corners initiative.
  • Created innovative partnerships with public libraries, school districts, universities, social service agencies, and employers, all of which yield not only greater numbers of applicants but also greater awareness of the naturalization process.
  • Deployed a large-scale volunteer recruitment program through an e-learning course.

    Reached diverse communities. Local partners consistently outreach and provide culturally competent and language-appropriate services.
Learn more from our
Impact Report.

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Who We're Helping

People come to America from all over the world with dreams of achieving a better life for themselves and their families and calling this great nation home. Eight million people who live, work, and pay taxes in this country are eligible for citizenship, yet only about eight percent of them naturalize each year. Find out more about these individuals and the barriers they face.Read More