Charlotte class helps immigrants become citizens

Daniel Arana, who is already a U.S. citizen, helps his wife, Rocia Arana, during immigration class Saturday at the Charlotte Museum of History.
Daniel Arana, who is already a U.S. citizen, helps his wife, Rocia Arana, during immigration class Saturday at the Charlotte Museum of History. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Pop quiz, American citizens.

When was the Constitution written?

The House of Representatives has how many voting members?

Who is Chief Justice of the United States?

Well ... Would you pass a test for U.S. citizenship? (See the answers below).

The Charlotte Museum of History held a free study session Saturday for immigrants seeking to become U.S. citizens. Part of the citizenship process – besides a 21-page application – is answering correctly six of 10 civics questions pulled from a pool of 100.

That may not sound difficult, but knowing an overview of the U.S. government while struggling to simply understand English can be daunting, said Leander Holston, Charlotte field office director for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“I think the language barrier is what stops a lot of people from even applying (for citizenship),” he said.

Rocio Arana, 47, immigrated to the U.S. from Peru in 2002. She moved from Miami to Charlotte with her husband, Daniel, a naturalized citizen, seven years ago.

Daniel translated for Arana during portions of Saturday’s class, where they reviewed questions on the three branches of government, the president’s cabinet and Bill of Rights.

So why it is important for Arana to gain citizenship?

“For the elections,” she said. “Voting.”

When asked how she thinks she’ll do on the test, Arana, who works for Time Warner Cable, said: “I’ll be ready.”

580 The monthly average of new U.S. citizens in western N.C.

Leander said an average of 580 people become new citizens in western North Carolina each month. And that number will likely increase.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Mecklenburg County is home to 43,000 foreign-born naturalized U.S. citizens. It’s home to another 88,000 foreign-born non-citizens – more than half of which are Hispanic.

And the Hispanic population is increasing. The county’s non-white Hispanic population jumped 14.8 percent from 2010-14. Hispanics now make up nearly 13 percent of the Mecklenburg’s populations, or about 128,400 people.

Those born in Asia are Mecklenburg’s second-largest immigrant group, with more than 35,000 living in the county.

“Charlotte is a very international city,” said Kay Peninger, executive director of the museum. “I see a lot of it because I'm involved in the east side of Charlotte.”

Much of the county’s Hispanic population live in east Charlotte – around North Sharon Amity and Albemarle roads – and southwest Charlotte – along South Tryon Street, data show. Researchers say Hispanics come to the area for its quality of life, economy and general acceptance of immigrants.

The civics test is just one part of the citizenship process. Applicants must also demonstrate a basic understanding of English – reading and writing – have lived in the U.S. for five years (three years if they’re married to and living with a U.S. citizen) and be of good moral standing.

Immigration services officers also review tax, residency, criminal and child support records, Holston said.

He said sessions such as Saturday’s were important because scammers try to con immigrants with fake applications or exorbitant fees.

“We give people a realistic view of where they stand on their journey toward citizenship,” he said.


The Constitution was written in 1787. There are 435 representatives and John Roberts is the Chief Justice.

Staff writer Adam Bell contributed.

Off: 704-358-6038

The Charlotte History Museum’s next study session is at noon on July 25 at 3500 Shamrock Drive. It is free. Details: 704-568-1774.