Karen Refugees Become Citizens

On January 20, 40 Karen people celebrated becoming citizens at the Saint Paul RiverCentre. Social services coordinator Marner Saw and Arrive Ministires immigration counselor Amber Kerrigan joined the ceremony.

Over one year ago, Dah Dah graduated from high school and came to the Karen Organization of Minnesota to begin the process of applying for citizenship. She had lived in the U.S. since she was 7 years old and was ready to become a U.S. citizen.

“I will say, ‘I’m Karen, but I’m a U.S. Citizen.’ And becoming a citizen will give me the freedom to do what I want to do,” said Dah Dah.

Dah Dah is just one of 112 clients at KOM who became a citizen last year. In addition, 343 clients at KOM applied for Green Cards last year.

KOM partners with Arrive Ministries to provide Immigration Legal Services. Arrive Ministries is accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals, which means they can legally represent clients before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Department of State.

Every Monday, Kerrigan (or another representative from Arrive Ministries) comes to KOM’s office to have appointments with clients who would like to apply for citizenship, Green Cards, or family reunification. She is assisted by KOM social services coordinator Marner Saw.

Refugees are required to apply for a Green Card after one year of living in the U.S. After five years of living in the U.S., refugees can apply for citizenship.

Way Lay Paw came to the U.S. in April 2010. She lived in Texas during her first three years in the U.S. and moved to Minnesota in June 2013. In December 2015, her friends referred her to KOM to apply for citizenship.

“Marner and Amber were very helpful and answered all of my questions,” said Way Lay Paw. “It was an easy process.”

Seven months later, Way Lay Paw completed the naturalization test with USCIS. She passed the test and received her citizenship at a naturalization
ceremony on June 9, 2016.

“People that prepare for the naturalization test are really motivated and excited to apply,” said Kerrigan. “One client told me, ‘When I came to the U.S., I could only say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you.’ But now I can do this whole appointment in English!’”

Way Lay Paw is the third person in her immediate family to receive her citizenship. Two of her children were born in the U.S. so they became citizens automatically. Her husband is still waiting to receive his citizenship.

“I am so happy to receive my citizenship,” said Way Lay Paw, with a big smile on her face. “Now I feel like I have my own country.”

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