Becoming American: How refugees become US citizens in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - The number of people around the world who have been driven from their homes is at a record high. Refugees are forced to leave their native countries, escaping violence, war and persecution.
Thousands have resettled here in Las Vegas in search of a better life for themselves and their families.
“They’re here just to start a new life,” Robert Fink, instructor for the EOP program at Catholic Charities, said. “They want to have a job, they want to have a family, they want to be a part of our community.”
Step one: learning the English language.
“Many of them will come to class to learn the language but also to learn the culture. To learn what this means, what that means,” Fink said.
They also become familiar with American traditions, like potlucks and Valentine’s Day.
“I think in America the whole day is [Valentine’s Day],” Sudanese refugee Maha Ageeb said. “I see love in people. The most thing I like about people when I come here – people are so generous and people are so kind. And people smile at you and treat you so good.”
Ageeb is more than 8,000 miles from her home country of Sudan, where she fled violence, extreme poverty, famine and government corruption.
“Sudan is a rich country,” Ageeb said. “We have oil, we have gold, we have a lot of things. But the government abused these resources. So people are living in a poor situation in Sudan.”
Ageeb was a Sudanese journalist, covering the revolution and pro-democracy protests. The stories she wrote made her a target.
“For a journalist it is so hard because there is no freedom. You can’t write what you want. You can’t say your opinion frankly. You can face jail or abuse or all kinds of those things,” Ageeb said.
Jailed and abused, Ageeb fled her home country, landing in Las Vegas in the Summer of 2018.
“I love Las Vegas so much,” Ageeb said. “Las Vegas is more freedom. You can write what you want. You can make anything you want and you find yourself here.”
With a new-found freedom, Ageeb is writing again. Ageeb has a fascination with Christmas and wrote a children’s book about it.
“The experience of Christmas is totally new for me. My nephew and niece, they’re going online and tracking Santa. All these things are new for me.”
Stories like Ageeb’s are exactly why Catholic Charities’ refugee services exist. As Nevada’s state refugee office, their work begins as soon as refugees arrive in Las Vegas, providing transportation, housing, food and access to education.
“You know when they arrive here the initial thing they really want to do is become independent and self-sufficient and beginning contributing to their community,” Catholic Charities Vice President of Immigration and Migration Services Carisa Lopez-Ramirez said. “So the initial thing is finding employment and one of the biggest hurdle that we will see is the limited English capability. So the English language program here is very crucial in addressing that barrier.”
Documented and living in America legally, refugees understand overcoming those barriers will get them closer to one day becoming U.S. citizens.
“In terms of refugee statuses that number certainly has gone down. Last year in fiscal year 2019 we saw a little bit under 300…probably three years ago it was 500. Prior to the administration you’re looking into a little over a thousand,” Lopez-Ramirez said.
With the number of refugees being allowed to settle in the U.S. dwindling, Ageeb considers herself lucky.
“I want to thank God. He give me new life here in America and I like my life here in America so much,” Ageeb said. “And I want to thank the whole American people for what they are doing for refugees. And also Catholic Charities for what they are doing for refugees.”
Copyright 2020 KVVU. All rights reserved.