New Ogden class giving would-be US citizens extra dose of civics preparation

Bobby Workman teaches a U.S. citizenship class to a contingent of immigrants seeking citizenship at the Main Library in Ogden on Wednesday.

Bobby Workman teaches a U.S. citizenship class to a contingent of immigrants seeking citizenship at the Main Library in Ogden on Wednesday. (Tim Vandenack,

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OGDEN — Her hope to become a U.S. citizen stems from her many years in the country and a desire to engage civically.

"I grew up here ... and I want to be able to vote for president, have a say in our government," said Laura Cortes, originally from Mexico but a resident in the United States for 35 years.

For Lizeth Jimenez, it's also about the time she's been here — 30 years. She came as a child from Mexico, brought by her parents, but has spent the bulk of her life in the United States, which has become home. "I've lived here all my life," she said.

Cortes, Jimenez and several others took part in a newly formatted U.S. citizenship class, the Ogden Citizenship PATH Program, that's meant to bolster their civic engagement. As it winds down — they're to graduate next week — they'll be going away with an extra dose of what it means to be a U.S. citizen and the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship.

Those applying for U.S. citizenship must pass a civics test. The new class — an initiative spearheaded by the city of Ogden — helped prepare them for that, but went further, giving them a super dose of civics instruction and other extra assistance. The students got expert help in filling out their U.S. citizenship applications and received extra civics lessons in the form of presentations by Ogden Police Chief Eric Young, Weber County Clerk-Auditor Ricky Hatch and other local officials.

"Now I can actually say our representative is Blake Moore," said student Ava Flores, originally from South Africa, referring to the congressman who represents Ogden in the U.S. House of Representatives. She's particularly eager to finish the citizenship process so she can vote.

Students in a U.S. citizenship class listen to instructor Bobby Workman, not pictured, at the Main Library in Ogden on Wednesday.
Students in a U.S. citizenship class listen to instructor Bobby Workman, not pictured, at the Main Library in Ogden on Wednesday. (Photo: Tim Vandenack,

Eighteen students are expected to finish the program, though that doesn't end the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, handled by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Linda Lartigue, diversity affairs coordinator for Ogden and one of the program architects, is hoping to keep it alive going forward.

"So far, it's just been a really great experience," Lartigue said. "We are working really hard to continue the funding."

Those accepted into the class are legal permanent residents with solid English speaking, reading and writing skills, among the many requirements to become a U.S. citizen. The majority of the students are originally from Mexico, but others are from Brazil and other countries.

Classes have been taught at the Main Library in Ogden, building off the U.S. citizenship program long offered by the Weber County Library System. Other partners include United Way of Northern Utah, My Hometown Ogden and Catholic Community Services, which offered assistance with the U.S. citizenship applications.

'I love this country'

Bobby Workman, the class instructor, said the priority of the class is to prepare the students for the history and civics exam required as part of the citizenship process. The test comes later, administered by federal immigration authorities.

It's key, he said, "that we teach them about what it is to be an American, the importance of being civically engaged and many of the responsibilities that come with being a citizen." Two Ogden city officials are to address the students at their final class, the last lesson in civics.

At a recent class, Workman conducted mock interviews with some of the students in a bid to prepare them for when they'll have their own meetings with U.S. immigration officials. He also asked them a sampling of questions they'll likely face about U.S. government, U.S. history and their own political beliefs.

"I'll try not to be very kind," he joked, alluding to the stern demeanor of some immigration authorities.

Why do you want to be a U.S. citizen? he asked one student. "Because I love this country and I would like to vote," she answered.

Workman asked other students to identify the highest court of the land (the U.S. Supreme Court) and the president during the Great Depression and World War II (Franklin Delano Roosevelt), among other historical queries.

He further questioned them on their personal ideologies, another part of the process. Had they ever been members of the Communist Party, would they be willing to bear arms in defense of the United States, would they support the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. form of government?

The students are motivated, Workman said, and the support they offer one another has been another key element of the class.

"They have become their own small community working to achieve an individual life goal together," he said. "It has been impressive to see."

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Tim Vandenack covers immigration, multicultural issues and Northern Utah for He worked several years for the Standard-Examiner in Ogden and has lived and reported in Mexico, Chile and along the U.S.-Mexico border.


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