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28074L Hermantin(news)Citizen class all full in Little Haiti (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Mon, Mar. 06, 2006

Citizen class all full in Little Haiti
A Little Haiti grass roots organization prepares Haitian immigrants for citizenship -- and life in their adopted country.

Evelt Jeudy, immigration and citizenship coordinator at Haitian Women of Miami, shouts instructions as if he were a drill sergeant.

``OK everybody, repeat: branch!''

The dozen women in Jeudy's class complied immediately. ''Branch!'' they shouted back.

Jeudy: ``Again, branch! branch! branch!''

The women: ``Branch! branch! branch!''

Jeudy's Haitian-born students were not learning another language. They were memorizing words likely to come up on their citizenship tests, such as: What are the three branches of our government?

Coaching Haitian immigrants to become U.S. citizens is one of the most popular services at Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami or Haitian Women of Miami, a 15-year-old grass roots nonprofit community organization in Little Haiti.

Executive director Marleine Bastien depends mostly on donations and government and private grants to finance her organization, which has a staff of 14. The group operates on $700,000 a year, but Bastien says it needs at least $1 million or more to stop turning people away. Every day the group serves about 50 people, but turns away at least 10, she said.

The group held its 14th annual fundraiser dinner Saturday and hopes to continue to raise money at the Caribbean food festival March 25, all in an effort to eventually buy a building to house its offices in Little Haiti.

Aside from citizenship classes, Haitian Women offers an after-school program, mammograms for women who can't afford healthcare and anger management classes involving domestic violence.

Many of the people who come through the organization's doors hope to legalize their status.


This is a particularly sensitive time for immigrants as Congress gears up for a debate on immigration reform, a battle between legalizing up to 11 million undocumented immigrants or compelling them to leave the country.

Many Haitian immigrants believe immigration reform should encompass legislation to help Haitians gain status with the same ease as Cubans under the wet foot, dry foot policy.

Cubans who reach U.S. soil generally stay, while those intercepted at sea are usually repatriated. Not so for Haitian migrants who arrive by boat, and are caught. They are put on expedited deportation -- unless they can convince an asylum officer they have a ''credible fear'' of persecution if returned home.

The difficulty in obtaining legal status helps to explain why Haitian immigrants who qualify for citizenship generally apply for naturalization as soon as possible. The number of Haitians who naturalize annually is high compared to their native country's population.

In fiscal year 2004, for example, 8,215 Haitians became citizens -- ahead of naturalizations for nationals from larger countries, including Britain (7,785) and Canada (7,682), according to the latest nationwide immigration statistics.

Fanm, responding to the community's need, is among the local organizations that offers citizenship classes twice a week: Tuesdays and Fridays, 3-5 p.m.

The classes have been going on since January 2002 and have graduated about 500 Haitians, all of whom passed the citizenship test, according to Jeudy. Also, he said, Fanm has helped another 500 immigrants from all ethnic backgrounds become citizens.

Jeudy's method: memorize, memorize, memorize.

Jeudy tells students there are slightly more than a dozen words and phrases they have to memorize because they appear in questions likely to come up on the test.

Among key phrases to memorize: Capitol Building, Speaker of the House, declare war and vice president.

''Let's take branch,'' Jeudy asked the women at a class recently. ``Can you tell me any question that can have the word branch on it? Any question?''

One of the women raised her hand. ``How many branch?''

Jeudy corrected.

'`How many branches are there in the government,' is one of the questions you have to study to pass the test,'' he said. ``So, what is the answer?''

Four replied in unison: ``Three branches.''

Jeudy's class is a reflection of recent trends.


Most people naturalizing now are women, according to immigration statistics. The 2004 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics shows that females accounted for 54 percent of persons naturalizing.

Anne Marie Josette Nazaire, 53, is set to take her test March 15, she said.

Nazaire, who arrived in 1999, wants to become a citizen because she likes ''freedom'' and wants to bring her family.

Louissetee Jeuene, 59, was attending class for the first time. She hasn't applied for citizenship yet.

Renette Charlot, 55, is still waiting for a date for her swearing-in ceremony.

Charlot said she applied for citizenship because she wants to cast ballots in U.S. elections.

''I like to vote,'' she said.