40 Years of Marriage and 1 Day of Citizenship


“The citizenship test is like marriage… both requires comprehension.  In marriage, you have to work to understand your partner.  Of course, on the test you have to understand English “

I had asked the two whether the citizenship test or 40 years of marriage was more challenging.  As his wife finished answering, Augurio shot her an ornery glance and added “It’s hard to say which is more difficult.”

Juana and Augurio met in Lima, Peru in the 70s.   They were friends, but it was Juana’s special blend of extreme optimism coupled with her practical, down-to-earth nature that caught Augurio’s eye.   “She was so positive, but not one of those women you throw money at to impress.  On a date, I offered to get us a taxi, but she said she was fine taking the bus.  There was something different about her, about how she saw things in the world.”  Augurio says that it is Juana’s optimism that drives her to make ambitious plans, while he tends to be a more cautious decision-maker, focusing more on the finance and the risks.

“I’ll give you an example,” he said.  “In October, for our 40th anniversary, she wanted to go away, but I always said “No,no, it’s so much money, and I can’t just take off work all the time.” But that weekend, she said, “Get your bag”, and I discovered that she had done everything under the table!  The tickets, the hotel, she even went to my boss to request time off for me! ”   Juana grinned to herself, and said, “He is worried about money, but I always tell him that we can’t take it with us, so we have to decide together to invest it wisely now.”

One of the investments they decided to make together was in U.S. citizenship.  Juana was ready to apply, but Augurio had his doubts.  She says “He was so nervous, saying, ‘What for?  I won’t be able to pass!”  At $680 for each application, it was no small decision, but they explained, “We decided to invest the money and to study.  It was important that we made the decision together, because it is an expensive investment. But in the end, we wanted to more fully belong to this country, because it is our home.  We want to vote, and we want to bring the rest of our family so that we can all be together”

Once the decision was made, each pushed the other towards success.  Juana is more comfortable in English, but introverted, whereas Augurio is gregarious, but struggled with comprehension.   Juana’s boss helped her find CARECEN’s citizenship classes, and they enrolled in two sessions of class to prepare for the exam.  After turning in their applications, they began to focus even more on their English, and traded relaxing weekends for study dates.  Juana would book a room at the Mt. Pleasant library, and the couple would spend the day dictating sentences to each other to improve their written English, and watching YouTube videos of interview simulations to improve their comprehension.

In January, their hard work paid off.  Juana said, “The officer finished the interview and said ‘Congratulations’.  That is what you wait for, after all that studying.  To hear the official say that word is an incredible moment.”   While Augurio’s interview was first, his naturalization ceremony was cancelled due to a blizzard, and Juana became the first of the pair to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen.   Augurio teased her, saying “You tricked me!  I thought we were doing this together, but you beat me to it!”   Just days later, Augurio was sworn in as well.

Juana Rosa  and Augurio Nunez visit

Earlier this week, Juana and Augurio returned to CARECEN to show off their certificates of naturalization and speak to their former classmates.  Augurio offered words of encouragement, stating, “If we can do it, you can too. I wasn’t sure it was possible, but thanks to CARECEN, the classes, the teachers, and my wife, today we are celebrating 40 years of marriage and one day of citizenship.”

In the 10 years that remain until their Golden Anniversary, the couple hopes to vote in upcoming elections elections, travel, enjoy their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and continue to reunite their family through petitions.  They aren’t sure what adventures lay ahead, but are excited to share their next 10 years as naturalized U.S. citizens.

Congratulations to Juana, Augurio, and all of our newly naturalized citizens, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Juana Rosa Romero de Leon and Augurio Leon 2


Citizenship Volunteer Teacher Receives Community Empowerment Award

Proud teacher Emmanuel Caudillo congratulates two of his class graduates who recently became U.S. Citizens.

Every year, the Community Empowerment Award is given by CARECEN to recognize the accomplishments of an outstanding community and organizational leader.  Through their contributions to CARECEN and its mission to foster the comprehensive development of the Latino population in the Washington metropolitan region, they have helped CARECEN to succeed in strengthening both the immigrant community we serve and our community at large.

This year, during our 34th anniversary celebration, we were delighted to recognize the exceptional work of our longest-time citizenship volunteer teacher, Emmanuel Caudillo. Emmanuel has been teaching civics for 8 years and has helped hundreds achieve their dream of citizenship. His students describe him as passionate, very knowledgeable, detailed, and so energetic! Emmanuel is incredibly fond of his students and chose to celebrate his 30th birthday with them at CARECEN. In his brief acceptance speech Emmanuel shared that he was inspired to teach civics by Cesar Chavez, who also taught civics to the farm workers he organized, and also by his parents whom he helped practice for their citizenship exams as a child. Emmanuel is currently working on publishing his own citizenship textbook, to support even more aspiring citizens. We are so fortunate to have him part of the CARECEN family!

Emmanuel is a senior advisor to the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH). In this role, he oversees the operational duties of the initiative, outreach to Hispanic Serving Institutions, and youth engagement activities, including overseeing the WHIEEH Internship program.

From 2009 to 2013, he was a budget analyst at the U.S. Department of Education. He has also held research positions in various organizations, including Abt Associates and the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Emmanuel is very active in his community. In addition to his work at CARECEN, he currently serves on the board of directors of the Young Education Professionals and Briya Public Charter School.

Originally from Los Angeles, he holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California and a Master of Public Policy from The George Washington University.

On behalf of our team and community we serve, ¡GRACIAS!

Citizenship Students’ Journey Through History

By:  Stefanie Moran and Emma Israel, Summer Citizenship Interns

Each session, the students of CARECEN’s citizenship classes get the chance to leave the classroom behind and have a day’s lesson exploring the nation’s capital. This time around, that opportunity landed on a 95 degree Saturday in June. But the prospect of a full day worth of walking in the sweltering heat didn’t deter the more than 30 students who came out to explore the monuments and the National Mall. After meeting our team of park ranger tour guides, the group learned the stories of the Vietnam Wall, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial.

Students meet Park Ranger Mike Balis at Foggy Bottom Metro at the start of the day.

The group started their historical adventure at the Three Soldiers Statue, looking out over the names on the lost lives on the Vietnam Wall. Next, attention shifted to Abraham Lincoln, where students read the emancipation proclamation and learned about Lincoln’s efforts to abolish slavery. All were in awe when they saw the stories they had been learning in class come to life. The journey then led them to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, where the larger than life image of Dr. King served as a reminder of the fight for civil rights that was endured and continues today. Park Ranger Garcia, herself a daughter of Mexican immigrants, focused on the meaning the meaning of Dr. King’s iconic quote: “out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” The students expressed their gratitude for all of his endeavors, and how his work created the opportunity for their own experiences in this country.

Students learn about the Civil Rights Movement at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Finally, the group walked through the rooms that represent each of FDR’s four terms as president and the challenging context of his presidency. Park Ranger Mike Balis shared his father’s experience during that time and his deep appreciation for the president as the country navigated through the Great Depression and World War II. They learned how all across the country – in cities and the countryside – felt the hardship of the Depression. The students were stunned to learn that President Roosevelt had restored the United States’ relationship with Latin America, and that without the support of the region, victory could not have been achieved.

Some of the students at the FDR memorial after learning about his many accomplishments as President.

“Que bonita historia” exclaimed one student after every story, and all nodded and smiled in agreement. Despite many years living in Washington, most of the students had never explored the monuments before and were thrilled to see history come alive right in their backyards.

CARECEN Welcomes New Citizenship Specialist

By Ana Negoescu, CARECEN

stephLast month CARECEN’s citizenship team grew after we welcomed Stephanie Lopez, our new Citizenship Specialist. Stephanie is currently providing paralegal assistance to our legal team in the area of naturalization and supporting brief services. In January she will begin required training and take the necessary steps for becoming our second Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)Accredited Representative. Once accredited, she will manage her own case load and represent citizenship clients before USCIS. Stephanie will also assist with organizing and conducting our naturalization information sessions and workshops by working closely with our partners and our citizenship and legal directors. She will play a vital role in integrating our citizenship instruction and naturalization application services by coordinating with our citizenship education team and ensure our students have all the information needed to complete their application for naturalization.

Stephanie was born and raised along the El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico border. She graduated with a degree in political science from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). At a very early age, she discovered a passion for giving back to her community and since then has made a strong commitment to public service. She is particularly dedicated to fighting for the rights of immigrants and children.  In El Paso, she worked at the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project where she assisted immigrant victims of domestic violence and other violent crimes in applying for immigration relief. Stephanie also served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children who have been abused or neglected and now find themselves caught in the middle of intimidating court proceedings. While in school, she was heavily involved on campus and in her community. She participated in the Bill Archer Fellowship Program in Washington, DC and in the Law School Preparation Institute at UTEP. She volunteered with numerous organizations in El Paso such as the USO, the Salvation Army, the El Paso Child Crisis Center, and the El Paso Bar Association. Today, she is thrilled to be back in the nation’s capital and is excited to be a member of the CARECEN family.

Stephanie aspires to be an immigration attorney, a career interest sparked by her eagerness to make a big difference in people’s lives. As daughter of immigrants, growing up on the border, she has experienced first hand the immigrant struggle and the hard work it takes to achieve dreams.  For her, working in the area of citizenship is especially meaningful, because she has witnessed the sense of accomplishment and pride that naturalization brought to her parents, who recently went through the process.

In her free time Stephanie loves to explore D.C. and its diversity, run and dance cumbia. Welcome Stephanie!


CARECEN and the National Immigration Forum Partner on New American Workforce

By Ana Negoescu, CARECEN

Specifically, CARECEN and the Forum work together to engage with local businesses and assist their employees in obtaining U.S. citizenship if they are eligible. This occurs through a series of outreach events, workshops, consultations, legal representation and civics instruction developed and implemented by both organizations and additional partners, as recruited by the Forum. The Forum leads all the business outreach, prepares these events, and follows up with employees as appropriate. CARECEN then offers citizenship services on the worksite, and aid in the follow up with employees.

For over 30 years, the Forum has worked to advance sound federal immigration solutions through its policy expertise, communications outreach and coalition building work, which forges powerful alliances of diverse constituencies across the country to build consensus on the important role of immigrants in America.

On October 7, CARECEN and the forum held their first collaborative citizenship  informational session at Doctors Community Hospital, in Lanham, Maryland. Around 20 Lawful Permanent Residents, who were hospital employees, attended and learned about eligibility requirements, the naturalization process, and the citizenship loan we offer through Acceso Credit Union. Next steps include individual screenings of those who are interested to pursue naturalization, and a citizenship application preparation workshop on November 20th.

We look forward to more informational sessions and workshops to serve more workers and their employers and thus redefine the “New American Workforce”.


Dreams that Refuse to be Deferred

By Irene Koo, CARECEN Summer Citizenship and Civic Engagement intern

This summer, I had the privilege of interning with CARECEN as part of the Citizenship and Civic Engagement program focused on education and empowerment. I write these words a few months out and many miles away, but I find that my experience with CARECEN has continued to stick with me. Over the course of two months, I had the chance to work directly with a vibrant and integral part of the DC, Maryland, and Virginia community. I tutored adults preparing for the United States citizenship exam and worked with students from Cardozo High School participating in our new leadership program. The most memorable part of teaching this summer was forming personal relationships with so many of the students and hearing their stories and experiences. Examining the role of the Supreme Court or causes of the Revolutionary War over a tutoring session could easily turn into chatting about weekend plans and cravings for pupusas. Brainstorming solutions to racial conflicts in the classroom balanced out goofy icebreakers and discussions about hopes for college and beyond. I approached this summer with the expectation that I would be teaching others, but instead came away with a deeper understanding of perseverance, justice, and what it means to be “American.”

One of the most insightful experiences for me came from working with a small group of ninth graders, all recent arrivals from Central America, at Cardozo High School.

Twice a week, we met with the students to build leadership and communication skills and design a community service project. We discussed important historical social movements such as United Farm Workers and American Civil Rights, but also talked about issues affecting Cardozo and the DC community. I was regularly blown away by how thoughtful and passionate they were about finding solutions to real problems. To illustrate, the students decided to tackle the complex issue of in-school violence and racial relations. They collectively wrote a student petition for improved safety measures, met with their school counselor, and received signatures from their peers to present to the principal. Despite the fact that they knew very little English, the students demonstrated that they were willing to work together and step outside of their comfort zone in order to effect positive change in their new community.

Working with the diverse Latino community challenges narrow conceptions of identity. All of our students have a unique story and myriad reasons for coming to the United States, with some motivated by the hope of reuniting with family members and others by the desire for a better future. Although many identify as Salvadoran, Honduran, or Dominican, our students also share in common the desire to become Americans and call this country home. The possibilities afforded by citizenship are numerous, ranging from voting rights, welfare benefits, and improved job prospects. Yet becoming a citizen is a lengthy and involved process, notwithstanding the initial $680 application fee. Preparation for the exam itself consists of studying one hundred questions on US history, civics, and geography, reading and writing sentences, and conducting mock interviews to improve oral comprehension. Attaining citizenship and achieving proficiency in the English language is no small task, especially for many of our students who did not attend school past the elementary or secondary level. I remember translating for Ophelia, a sweet woman from El Salvador, for her first naturalization interview. After having practiced with her and knowing how hard she had studied, it was difficult not to feel disappointed when the official informed us she had failed the interview. Yet, the first thing Ophelia asked me when we stepped outside of the USCIS office was, “When can I come back to try again?”

As someone who was born a United States citizen, it’s difficult to understand the significance of citizenship and the joy of seeing the official stamp after a successful interview (whether that be on a first or fourth attempt). For many, this achievement is the culmination of a much longer journey full of adjustment and sacrifice. When I attended my first naturalization ceremony with Balthazar, a student from El Salvador, I was moved by the overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment from the new citizens and their families in the courtroom. It was refreshing to see how beautiful and inspiring our immigration process could be when it succeeds in serving the immigrant community, rather than limiting and excluding it. However, it is challenging to reconcile this celebration of American values and our “melting pot” culture and heritage while there are tens of thousands of immigrants in this country who are systematically denied basic human rights. For that reason, I want to conclude this reflection by mentioning the ongoing humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America.

Our immigration system is outdated and broken, a fact made increasingly clear by our overflowing detention centers and ill-equipped law enforcement. In only the last few months, over 60,000 children from Central America have crossed the border into the United States. These refugees have not been met with understanding, but have been criminalized, detained, separated from family members, and deported without due process. We focus on how to keep people out, rather than considering the root causes of violence and instability that force young children to leave their homes. We teach our students the principles from the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, laud these values in our naturalization ceremonies, and then fail to live out these ideals in practice. Immigration reform is unquestionably complicated, but is at the same time an issue far greater than partisan disagreements. I’ve been frustrated by the continued delay of executive action and meaningless rhetoric from politicians who have the luxury of indecision. We greatly need reform, but perhaps empathy even more so.

The most important lesson I learned from CARECEN is that there can be no justice as long as there is indifference. Part of CARECEN’s citizenship program emphasizes the importance of civic engagement. After all, it is not simply being a citizen, but what we do with that opportunity that holds the power to change history. I am proud and encouraged by the widespread show of solidarity in the weekly vigils that have taken place outside of the White House. With continued action and perseverance, I am confident that the demands for justice and dignity for unaccompanied minors can become a reality. As I continue to learn more about the difficult, often dangerous, path of immigration and the long process towards citizenship, I reflect on the following quote from Maya Angelou: “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Truly, I can think of no better embodiment of this love than the community I had the chance to work with this summer, full of individuals who have overcome innumerable barriers in their journey to the United States. If there is one word that encompasses this resilient community, it is hope.

Reflections of a CARECEN volunteer: Freshman Service Experience

by: Samantha Ewing, American University Freshman

AU students with CARECEN youth participants

“Starting my first year at American University, I prepared myself all summer for the experience of a lifetime. Along the way I was given all the usual sentiments of pride, and advice about college every student receives when embarking on this next chapter in life. I was told to expect speeches and icebreakers. I was prepped on ways to deal with the overwhelming amount of people I would be meeting and told the best ways to study, without sacrificing the fun only a college student could have. What I was never prepared for though, was just how much of an impact I could make, and how much of an impression could be made on me in just two days of a school mandated service program.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love community service, I truly believe that giving back to one’s community is something that strengthens not only the community but also the volunteer. So, of course when I was given the choice between Discover DC and the Freshman Service Experience here at American i jumped at the chance to serve my new-found community. As luck would have it, my randomly selected program ended up being here, at CARECEN, The Central American Resource Center in Columbia Heights DC. As a woman of Central American descent myself, I was beyond excited. Keeping in mind of course, that one can only speculate as to how much service they will actually be doing in the time-span of two days. Little did I know just how deeply I would connect with the program and how much it could change me.

Upon arriving at CARECEN, myself and my fellow volunteers were warmly greeted and promptly given an explanation as to what the organization did. In the hour or so that we listened to people speak, I learned about all the work the organization does here in DC and its work with sister organizations, in other locations across the country. Providing legal aid to people from all over the area, CARECEN is the true meaning of providing for one’s community. Not only do they help the community around them, but it was clear that they were aware of the larger problem. Executive Director, Abel Nuñez explained how helping the people here in Columbia Heights was only a portion of the amount of help was truly needed in order to make the situation better for both the people here and the people back in Central America.

The second day, myself and the other American University students were given the opportunity to speak with members of the youth group at CARECEN, high school students recently arrived to the United States and DC. In spite of having been in the United States for less than two years, the teenagers we spoke to showed a passion and excitement for school and college that I’d never seen. Having been a part of the CARECEN program they had gained confidence enough to conduct an icebreaker in English, as well as ask various questions about the college process and tell us about their hopes here in the United States.

While I went into the program skeptical, I can absolutely say that my two days at CARECEN are an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. I was exposed to a group of people who work as hard as they can to give back to a such a prevalent community in the DC area. Not only did I see all the ways they were able to help the people here in the United States, but also the awareness of the real reasons problems the community faces,  as well as possible solutions to the problems and a real desire to educate the public on how they may be achieved. The experience was unbelievably eye-opening and made me realize just how much work could be done here. More so, I’ve seen first hand through CARECEN how much genuine care can help the people of the Latin American community in DC, help themselves. I hope to go back as soon as possible to volunteer and learn as much as I can about the program and the people who make the work they do possible.

Thanks to all the students who gave their time to CARECEN through the Freshman Service experience.  Best of luck during your freshman year!

Registration Open for Summer Citizenship Classes

Summer is here and you are looking to take a citizenship class while kids are at camp. CARECEN is proud to be the only community based organization in the District of Columbia that offers citizenship classes in the summer, between July 8 and September 27 (12 weeks). For that reason, classes fill up quickly, so don’t wait to sign up!

You can now register any day Monday through Friday, between 9 AM and 4 PM. Registration will remain open until the first day of class or until there is no more space. Classes are offered on weeknights and weekends to accommodate busy schedules of working adults. This summer, in addition to our regular schedule, we opened a class at the Takoma Park Neighborhood Library, on Sundays afternoons.

Each student will enroll in two weekly classes:  a two hour civics class, and a two hour civics-focused ESL class.  We also offer a civics class in Spanish for those eligible, offered on Saturday mornings. As always, our students will  use technology during a weekly computer lab, and practice both civics and English for the citizenship exam, while gaining computer skills. We will also incorporate field trips and opportunities to engage in the local community and democracy.

Lawful Permanent Residents can register by visiting our offices located at 1460 Columbia Road NW, Suite C-1, Washington, DC 20009, in the above mentioned schedule, with their green card. Those interested to enroll will fill out a registration form, take an English assessment test, pay the $50 tuition fee and receive the textbooks and other study materials provided by USCIS.

For more details please click on the flyer included here. If you have questions about the program please call us at (202) 328-9799 Ext. 23.

This program is made possible with generous support from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the DC Mayor’s Office of Latino Affairs, and the Inter-American Development Bank- DC Solidarity Program.

What’s So Good About Citizenship, Anyway?

By Anduriña Espinoza, CARECEN teacher and supporter

It costs money. It costs time. It requires study and taking a test. What’s so good about pursuing U.S. citizenship, anyway? CARECEN students offer insight.*

The answer is largely ideological in nature. They want to have rights and responsibilities.

Beatriz ~Photo by Andy Espinoza

Voting rights is a big draw. All hands went up in the intermediate English class when asked who plans to cast a vote once he or she becomes a citizen. Beatriz says she wants to participate in civil society when she becomes a citizen, just as she did in her home country of the Dominican Republic. The spunky woman is so passionate about politics that, although she could not cast her vote in 2012, she spoke with friends about the election issues and got 15 people to the polls!

At the same time, there is a monetary benefit to the equality citizenship brings to the workplace. Here in DC, government buildings require American citizenship for most workers. Ana, Fidel, and Rosario expressed their hopes for better job prospects if they could be available to work in such government posts.

Maria Sofia ~Photo by Andy Espinoza

For many, gaining U.S. citizenship is a matter of accuracy. While the DMV is not their birthplace, it has become their home. Twenty to thirty years here will do that to you, so they tell me. Maria Sofia (pictured right) has worked at the same restaurant near American University for 20 years. Her reasons for pursuing citizenship are many: voting rights, the chance to return to her native El Salvador for longer periods of time, the prospect of better job opportunities. But mostly, she tells me, the U.S. is her home now.

And those tempting benefits citizens get? Welfare? Medicare? Food stamps? CARECEN students, as is the national trend among immigrants to the U.S.**, did not find such grabs too inspiring. On that, Teresa told me, “Even when I was alone and pregnant with my baby I didn’t use food stamps.”

Basic necessity often brings people to the United States, be it economic need, escape from persecution, or freedom from war. Indeed, many of CARECEN’s students made the journey from their home countries in such dire circumstances—the war in El Salvador in the 1980s being a common cause for many in the community. It is the promise of something greater, however, something more ideological, that prods the men and women at CARECEN to, once here, become Americans. They want a better life, one in which they may have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.


*(Daniela Fishbein also delves into some of the reasons student pursue citizenship in her blog post: http://carecendc.org/can-you-teach-an-old-dog-new-tricks/)

**Bittle, Scott, and Jonathan Rochkind. “A Place to Call Home: What Immigrants Say Now about
Life in America.” Public Agenda (2010).

Happy New Year from CARECEN’s Citizenship Program

Here at CARECEN, we are celebrating our achievements and welcoming a new year full of success and inspiration. Some of our 2014 citizenship goals include:

  • Increase the number of permanent residents who receive assistance with the N-400 and enroll in citizenship classes.
  • Grow our collaboration with DC Public Libraries and other institutions to promote citizenship.
  • Collaborate in leadership development initiatives among DC Latino youth.
  • Mobilize new citizens’ civic participation through voter turnout and participation in local government.
  • Update curriculum to reflect the new N-400 form.
  • Develop computer-based activities to complement existing citizenship educational resources.
  • Diversify experiential learning activities for citizenship classes (field trips, board games, etc).
  • And more…

Check out this new infographic to learn more about who we serve and what we accomplished in the past year: