Living in America, with dream of being a citizen

Juan and Rosario Lemus were born and raised in Mexico but didn't meet until they lived in North Carolina.

Both worked at the long-closed Pillowtex plant in Kannapolis. They fell in love, got married, had two children. The children, now 6 and 2, are U.S. citizens. Their parents, both 34, are not.

But they want to be. On Saturday, the Lemuses attended a workshop for Latino immigrants interested in becoming American citizens. Juan Lemus, a resident alien, applied before but scored poorly on his test. He speaks little English, his wife – here on a visa – not much more. The family lives in Landis, where Juan works in a Lowe's warehouse.

They said they want to stay in the United States to make the best possible life for their children.

“They have benefits here: insurance, Medicaid,” said Rosario Lemus. “And we can vote.”

Those are two of the main reasons why Latinos want citizenship, said Ruben Campillo.

Campillo, the advocacy coordinator for the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte, runs the workshops twice a year. He, volunteers and local immigration lawyers help advise Latinos on the basics of naturalization: what information to provide authorities, what material will be covered on the naturalization test.

“A lot of them have been in this country for many years, and they want to become fully American, fully part of their communities,” said Campillo, himself a native of San Luis Potosi, Mexico. “It's been a long journey for a lot of them because of the obstacles they've had to overcome, but finally getting here is usually a lifelong dream for them.”

The Coalition is a service organization for Mecklenburg County Latinos, and the workshop – also hosted by International House, the Mecklenburg County Bar and the Charlotte School of Law – is part of a national effort called “Ya Es Hora” (“It's Time”) to encourage Latino immigrants to earn citizenship and vote, Campillo said.

It's something Sandra Cribb has wanted for a decade, since she left Colombia.

At 31, Cribb works as a housekeeper, and she's trying to save money. The divorced Cribb, whose maiden name is Escobar, has her green card. But she wants more.

“I know it's not an easy process. But I want the right to vote. I want to be a part of this country,” she said. “It's so organized. Everything is in the right place. Everything works here.”