RICHLAND -- Stella Chau emigrated from Vietnam a decade ago to join her husband, Dzung Tran.
The owner of Forever Nails in Richland decided she wanted to become a citizen so she could travel with a U.S passport.
Two years ago, she passed her citizenship test. "I passed 100 percent," she notes.
Chau is one of about 15 immigrants living in the Tri-City area who have become citizens after taking a free citizenship class offered by Richland's West Side Church.
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It's part of the English as a Second Language and citizenship program the church sponsors and is open to anyone in the community, not just church members.
Irene Johnson of Richland had a student in the English language class she taught who would constantly talk about how he wanted to become a U.S. citizen. She said that inspired her to suggest the citizenship class, which is in its fifth year.
A wide range of immigrants have attended the classes, from a goat herder to a pediatrician, Johnson said.
Last year, the program drew immigrants from 10 nations, including Honduras, Sudan, Russia, Ukraine and Thailand.
The length of time immigrants must live in the United States before they can apply for citizenship varies, depending on their situation, such as if they are married to a U.S. citizen or came as a refugee, said Robin Morris, director of the ESL and citizenship program.
But no matter the length of time, they all have to take the citizenship exam as part of the process, she said. And they have to pay $675 just to apply for citizenship.
To pass the test, people have to know the U.S. political structure and history, Johnson said.
There are 100 questions that the federal government uses on the citizenship exam, said Morris, a retired Richland School District teacher. They will be asked 10 of those questions but have to know the answers to all.
That means knowing such facts as who the state governor is, the name of the U.S. president, the number of amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the content of the Bill of Rights, who the Supreme Court chief justice is, Morris said.
The average American citizen doesn't know many of the answers, Morris and Johnson agreed. But the two said they don't think the test, or becoming a citizen, should be easy.
Chau said the classes helped her feel confident about taking the citizenship exam. She went to the classes when she could, juggling her schedule as a small business owner and working on her own at home.
West Side Church also is where Chau took classes to learn English.
The English language classes had about 50 students when the latest program started earlier this month, including adults and children, Morris said. People can start in the classes at any time, so the number of students changes during the year.
The number of classes could go up to seven, since the group aims to keep class size small, she said.
The classes are divided into levels of English, from starting with the alphabet and up, Morris said.
Knowing English is part of what is needed to become a citizen. And if someone doesn't know English well and doesn't know what the word judicial means, explaining what the judicial branch is becomes a challenge, Johnson said.
"They are fighting a language barrier to begin with, and then they have to know questions like these," she said.
Johnson said she doesn't teach just the answers to the test questions. She starts with Native American history and works her way up to the present, trying to give context along with information.
Johnson said she has had former students call her and tell her about their success in passing the citizenship exam.
For her, having that happen is exciting.
The free classes at the church at 603 Wright Ave. follow the Richland School District calendar, and are held Tuesdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Childcare is provided.