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Iowa immigrant organization offers its first post-citizenship class

03282022-Citizenship
Kassidy Arena
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IPR file
One U.S. citizen naturalization ceremony was held at Principal Park in Des Moines as a drive-thru event in 2020. One hundred new U.S. citizens drove through in shifts to recite the oath.

An immigrant advocacy organization is offering a post-citizenship class for the first time this week.

This Thursday, recently naturalized citizens, or anyone who wants to stay updated on civic duty, can attend Citizenship 201 at North Side Library in Des Moines.

Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz is with Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice and will be teaching the class. He said he has spoken with people in citizenship classes who are eager to learn more outside of studying for an exam.

“It's directly in response to those conversations, those questions, and the fact that there, there typically isn't time in those classes to, to dive deeper into those things," he said.

His mother is currently studying for the exam, so he knows the test can appear similar to a standardized test found in schools. The questions are based on a broad scale as opposed to a personal level.

03282022-Post-Citizenship-Class
Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice
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In English: Citizenship 201: Democracy in Action. I'm a citizen already, now what? When: Thursday, March 31 at 6 p.m. Where: North Side Library, 3516 5th Ave, Des Moines, IA 50313

Murguia-Ortiz said while the citizenship exam is more national in scope, participants in the new class will learn how to be active in more local events and elections and learn their rights as a U.S. citizen.

He wants the class to allow for deeper understanding of what it means to be a citizen, outside of an exam, and really empower new citizens.

“We're hoping to create a space where we can really dive deeper into, you know: 'Now that I'm a citizen, or now that I will still be a citizen, what are my rights?'" he explained. "Or: 'How can I be involved as a citizen?'”

The class will be taught primarily in Spanish, but resources and lessons will also be available in English for participants who need it.

Although the class is advertised for new citizens, Murguia-Ortiz said it's for anyone looking to deepen their civics knowledge. New citizens, he explained, are just the ones who can have a bit more momentum and interested in civic engagement.

He admitted even he sometimes learns new things, even though he was born in the country.

"There's already a lot of barriers to becoming a citizen, and, you know, there continues to be, even to U.S. citizens, barriers to access, to be engaged or to vote," he said. "In terms of like, how to be engaged in the process, how to build power to actually make changes through that system, or even outside of that system, really, is not something that there are a lot of spaces for folks. Citizens or not."

Iowa recently changed its voting law, limiting the time allowed for early voting and cuts open voting hours. The law is currently being challenged in court and received criticisms from a national Latino advocacy organization.

With midterms coming up this year, Murguia-Ortiz said he hopes the class will offer a wider context for new voters.

"I would hope that this kind of gets folks to kind of reframe and rethink about what an election means. And what it means to organize around an election how, you know, it's important. It's a piece that can really affect our lives in a very direct way," he added.

Murguia-Ortiz said depending on interest, it may become a statewide and/or virtual series. The class will offer voter registration and other conversation topics like workers' rights, protections and community organizing/advocating.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines