Becoming a Citizen at 84: “I Feel Like I’m 18 Again”

Becoming a Citizen at 84: “I Feel Like I’m 18 Again”

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SAN FRANCISCO -- After going to a citizenship workshop with her daughter last year, XiongHui Li, 84, decided to start taking citizenship classes with Self-Help for the Elderly in San Francisco.

“The teachers were very patient,” she says through an interpreter. “They helped me to have the confidence in my ability to pass the naturalization test.” After six months of study, she decided to apply for citizenship, and found out at another workshop that she even qualified for an application fee waiver.

“Recently I passed my naturalization test on my first try,” she says. “I am very happy … Even though I’m 84 now, I feel like I’m 18 again.” She now wants to take classes to learn English.

Anni Chung, the president of San Francisco-based Self-Help for the Elderly, says that “the citizenship process is really a challenging one” for many of her organization’s clients. Chung spoke at a press briefing publicizing an upcoming citizenship workshop that is part of San Francisco’s Pathways to Citizenship Initiative.

Adrienne Pon, the director of San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, says the initiative is one of the “largest mass efforts” of the city to help eligible immigrants become citizens. There are over 100,000 legal permanent residents residing in the city who may be eligible for citizenship, she says.

Han Chao Wu, 63, who also spoke at the briefing, experienced a longer process than Li. Wu failed the citizenship interview twice, and initially applied without trying to obtain a fee waiver.

But then he went to a naturalization workshop, where he found out that he qualified for a fee waiver, and was referred to citizenship classes. He passed the test last October, and now volunteers at workshops and is a teacher’s aide in citizenship classes offered by Self-Help for the Elderly.

Trent Rhorer, the director of the Human Services Agency (HSA) of San Francisco, says that HSA recently sent over 26,000 letters (in their recipients’ primary languages) to legally permanent residents of the city who may qualify for fee waivers, based on the fact that they already qualify for a means-tested public benefit, like SSI or Medicaid.

The free citizenship workshop, which will include fee waiver assistance (with in-person assistance available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Russian), will be on Saturday, June 7 at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium (99 Grove St. in San Francisco) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Services will include naturalization process assistance, eligibility assessments, and application preparation, as well as application review by immigration attorneys and qualified legal representatives. See The San Francisco Foundation’s website for information about what documents to bring, or call 415-662-8901. The workshop is hosted by the San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative, which is part of The New Americans Campaign.