By Raquel Araujo-Escobar
Like many immigrants, I came to the United States dreaming of opportunity and the chance to become an American citizen. Unlike many immigrants, I can thank my employer for helping me realize both of these dreams.
Thanks to The Bethlehem Project, the InterContinental Miami and other businesses are offering free help with citizenship applications for workers who are eligible. The project is named for Bethlehem Steel, which in 1915 became one of the first employers in the United States to offer free English instruction to immigrants in its workforce.
I have been in this country for 15 years and although I could have applied for citizenship earlier, I just could not find the time and money to do so. When I heard about this great service at my job at the InterContinental, I registered right away and here I am today, a happy, proud and blessed American citizen.
For me, this was an important step because I feel that this country is my home, where I am blessed with a wonderful family. I feel proud to be an American, in a country with endless opportunities, one that is organized, clean and safe to live in. Here you can set a plan, work hard and see your dream come true.
Many of my co-workers and fellow participants in The Bethlehem Project had been in the United States much longer than I had and had struggled with some of the many hurdles involved with the citizenship process. All of us were eager to become Americans. But some of us couldn’t find the time between work and family to finish the daunting paperwork, and many of us could not afford the fees and lawyer costs.
I know it’s not uncommon to pay more than $2,700 and brave long preparatory classes outside of work hours to become a citizen, but The Bethlehem Project tore down those roadblocks for me.
Staff from the International Rescue Committee came to the hotel and helped us work through what once seemed like a tangled mess of confusing documents, time constraints and high costs by being our partners in the application process.
My journey to citizenship began during my lunch hour. After learning the ins and outs of the process from The Bethlehem Project presentation, I made an appointment with the International Rescue Committee.
I brought my paperwork and a check for the citizenship application fee to our meeting at the hotel. We completed my application, and I walked out with a package that I put in the mail that same day. Three weeks later, I was on my way to my fingerprinting appointment, and on May 10 I became one of the newest American citizens.
Instead of spending years confused and intimidated by the citizenship process, I had assistance every step of the way thanks to The Bethlehem Project, a project of the National Immigration Forum and local partners that is funded in large part by the New Americans Campaign. I feel so blessed to have had such a service provided to me right at my place of employment.
Just like Bethlehem Steel, the InterContinental recognized the importance of encouraging us to participate fully in American society. I am grateful that my hotel is one of the first participants in Miami and in the country, alongside The Betsy South Beach and the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association.
I came to this country because I believe in the American value of hard work and opportunity. Because of The Bethlehem Project, I feel as though my hard work has been rewarded in a very direct way: I am now a proud American citizen.
Raquel Araujo-Escobar of Miami is the engineering supervisor at the InterContinental Miami.
This post originally appeared in the Miami Herald