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Immigration Services: A Roadmap for Adult Education

by Hali Dayberry-Massey

Due to the fact that adult education programs serve a large number of English language learners, it is important for programs to have a basic understanding of the immigration services that these learners may have to navigate. In addition, language learning is typically a requirement of or recommendation for the immigration process, so it is likely that adult education English language learners have an interest in learning more about immigration services and processes in the United States. The information in this article was obtained via an interview with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Office of Community Relations, represented by Gloria J.Williams-Brevard, and the USCIS Office of Citizenship, represented by Mary Flores and Gusman (Teddy) Edouard. The information that follows should serve as a roadmap for adult education to better understand the what, who, and how of immigration services.

THE WHAT

Connections between Adult Education and Immigration Services:

Adult education is a productive way to connect immigrants with information they need about settling in the United States. The USCIS has a one-stop-shop for learners/teachers called the Citizenship Resource Center. It has everything from forms and videos to practice tests. Its website—uscis.gov—covers all other immigration topics.

  • The USCIS Office of Citizenship offers adult citizenship education training events about the naturalization process and resources, and strategies for citizenship teachers. Due to COVID-19, these trainings are now offered online through webinars.
    • Trainings cover the how and why of immigration policy and processes as well as adult education best practices.
    • Current webinars are Tuesdays at 2:00 PM EST. (There will not be any events in October 2020, but events will resume as of November 2020.) Register through the USCIS website.
  • The Office of Community Relations offers events for those seeking immigration services.
    • Training events focus on the naturalization process, local community needs, fraud/scams, or general immigration overview.

Aspects of immigration services of which adult education should be familiar:

Immigration law is very complicated, so it may be best to direct the immigrant community to experts that have been accredited and recognized by the Department of Justice. While USCIS adjudicates requests for dozens of immigrant and non-immigrant categories, the local field offices primarily adjudicate two main benefit types of interest to many people— green cards and citizenship.

  • Role of Community Relations (Local field offices): Assists with the application of and eligibility for green cards and citizenship, as well as clarifications regarding the Public Charge rule. USCIS can also offer an Immigration 101 presentation to give information on the basic foundations of immigration law and policy.
  • Citizenship Resource Center: These resources provide already developed materials for adult education programs. They help to save time and energy on the instructors’ part, especially for new teachers or those who are transitioning into citizenship instruction. They are also meant for those who have limited knowledge or experience with citizenship instruction.
  • Avoid Scams Resource Center: These resources help educate the immigrant community on how to avoid and report immigration scams.
  • The Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Ombudsman: This is an autonomous part of the agency that takes complaints regarding issues that cannot be taken care of locally. They also host public engagement events, develop an annual report, and conduct education sessions. It is hoped that any complaints or issues can be handled first by local field offices. This office is most likely used as a resource for its other services.

Resources for the immigrant population to have access to when navigating immigration services:

In addition to the official websites that have been provided, the USCIS has a strong social media presence that is also helpful when trying to navigate immigration services. USCIS has a Facebook page that, among other resources, has over 100 videos that discuss citizenship, the immigration process, and how to avoid scams. In addition, there is also a USCIS Twitter account and YouTube channel.

Systems the immigrant population should be prepared to navigate when trying to access or use immigration services:

The USCIS website is a wonderful resource that provides, in multiple languages, clear, accurate, and updated information on a range of topics. It is very easy to navigate and there are helpful features to guide you to the specific information you seek. Anyone who is interested in immigration generally or applying for immigration benefits should start with the USCIS website. Moreover, it is important to ensure that all websites being accessed for immigration services are federal sites which will most likely end in “.gov” or “.mil”.

  • USCIS: My Account: USCIS strongly encourages users to create an account as a way to keep track of applications and gain access to helpful resources. USCIS is trying to increase online filings and currently has eight applications that can be filed online. This helps USCIS receive payment faster and can help to speed up processing times. It also helps to secure the user’s application as well as their personal information.
  • State Department Visa Bulletin: It can sometimes be confusing as to what applications are adjudicated by USCIS versus the State Department. All visa applications are processed via the State Department, so if anyone is waiting on family visas or other visas to be processed that can impact their USCIS applications, they need to understand how to navigate the visa system through the State Department.
  • State Department Passport Process: The first step after receiving U.S. Citizenship is to apply for a U.S. Passport via the State Department.

Message to adult education practitioners regarding the current and future state of U.S. immigration services:

While USCIS cannot address questions pertaining to specific cases, national policy, or legal interpretation; immigration is and has been a hot topic for a long time, and that is not likely to change. It is helpful to have a basic understanding of the rules and processes so you can direct people to the right resources.

USCIS also highly encourages people and organizations to get involved with immigration services. When there are proposed policy changes, the public always has a period of time for comment. Organizations do not have to be vetted, recognized providers to provide an opinion on the USCIS website, processes, or materials.

THE WHO

Organizations to contact if adult education programs are in need of immigration resources or questions to be answered:

The Office of Community Relations and Office of Citizenship work very closely together. The Office of Citizenship focuses on building citizenship education programs and helping with curriculum and materials. The Office of Community Relations is a direct contact to field offices and serves as a venue to support partnerships between field offices across the country. In order to communicate with either office, use the email address listed or visit their respective websites. Both offices communicate directly with each other, so if one is contacted but the other is the best resource, they will connect people to the other office.

For outside providers, USCIS cannot endorse specific organizations or legal service providers, but DOJ/EOIR does maintain a list of accredited service providers who provide pro bono or reduced cost services. There are a number of reputable non-profit immigration service providers around the state. It is recommended to just do an internet search and do your homework to ensure you are seeking help from a reputable provider.

THE HOW

How adult education programs can support learners seeking immigration services:

  • Direct immigrants to reliable resources and stress the importance of federal and state (.gov) sites so that learners can avoid imposter sites. These resources are also the best way to connect immigrant student populations with immigration services.
  • Build capacity. The DOJ Tip Sheet also provides information on how to become a vetted, legal provider of immigration services. It is not necessary to be a lawyer to apply for accreditation with the DOJ. There are many underserved populations and communities, and this is a great opportunity for community organizations to build capacity. One example of this is a library in Maine that offers immigration services by having become a recognized legal provider. Other potential organizations for this type of capacity building include faith-based and local volunteer organizations. Organizations that have not been vetted and recognized can assist with filling out applications but cannot provide immigration advice or information. Becoming a recognized legal provider helps support USCIS with ensuring that all applicants are receiving accurate information. In addition, USCIS has grant funding for programs interested in or currently offering citizenship education.
  • Attend USCIS trainings. As previously mentioned, these training sessions (currently being offered in the form of webinars) educate adult education practitioners on the basics of immigration services. Furthermore, these events are an opportunity for programs to network with legal providers.
  • Access the Office of Citizenship’s Resource Center. This resource center contains lesson plans that have been developed by English language proficiency levels, curriculum, an syllabi for citizenship education.

Best ways for adult education practitioners to become familiar with and stay up-to-date on aspects of immigration services:

  • To build familiarity:
    • Navigate the website.
    • Read policy memoranda.
    • Utilize the online assistant “Emma”. She is programmed to assist with questions about the USCIS site. Questions can be asked in both English and Spanish.
  • To stay-up-to-date:
    • Sign up for the USCIS alert system.
    • Sign up for the Office of Community Relation’s email roster. This is a way to give feedback to USCIS on policy and processes. To sign up, email washington.communityrelations@USCIS.dhs.gov.
    • Sign up for the Office of Citizenship’s email roster. This is a way to receive support for developing or starting up programs with respect to citizenship. To get on the listserv or sign up for a webinar event, email Office.of.citizenship@ USCIS.dhs.gov. When registering or sending email, make sure to use the most accurate email so that the Office of Citizenship can maintain direct contact.

Hali Dayberry

Hali Dayberry-Massey, MA TESOL, s the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Specialist at the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center (VALRC). In this role, she coordinates teacher professional development that aligns with state and federal initiatives, as well as local interests and needs. This work includes the design and delivery of online courses, face-to-face workshops, and virtual meetings, all with a focus on the practice of teaching English to adult learners.