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Citizenship Clinics – A Year in Review

La Sok

On behalf of The Cambodian Family and the Orange County Naturalization Initiative Collaborative, we would like to thank you all for all of your time and hard work in supporting us at our clinics throughout the year.

We were able to help many of Orange County’s residents realize their dreams of obtaining their American citizenship. We would like to share some statistics from all of the clinics we held this year:

Number of clinics: 7
Number of appointments made: 154
Number of possible applicants assisted: 112
Number of residents that completed their naturalization applications: 110
Number of residents that completed fee waivers: 98
Number of unduplicated attorneys: 7
Number of unduplicated non-attorney volunteers: 38

Many of the clients that submitted their applications eventually became citizens! In addition to our findings, we would also like to share a story about one of our clients that we helped:

Mr. Sokha Hak (name changed to protect identity) came to the United States in his late 20’s after struggling for many years through the war and genocide in Cambodia. He was able to make America his new home after applying for, and being granted permanent residency status on 02/22/1983. He recalled the heartaches and suffering he went through after losing all of his siblings and parents to the genocide and how lonely he felt when he first settled here in Santa Ana, a city he would call home for the next 30 years.

Mr. Hak made a living working small, part-time jobs cutting fabrics for the local garment shops and although he never made much, he was grateful and fortunate for all of the opportunities he had in his new home. After several years, Mr. Hak became eligible to apply for citizenship but did not choose to because he heard from his friends and neighbors how difficult the citizenship exams were and because he did not know of anyone or any program to help guide him on the path towards citizenship. He also stated that he never had time to look into applying because he was always so busy working and never saw getting his citizenship as a priority.

Fast-forward thirty years later and Mr. Hak hears from a neighbor that a community organization called The Cambodian Family (TCF) was currently helping community members apply for their citizenship. Mr. Hak, now in his 60’s thought it was time that he could try for his citizenship. When asked what finally compelled him to apply, he answered that he had always wanted American citizenship because of the great benefits for traveling, the empowering ability to vote, and all the safety and peace of mind that comes with being a citizen. He also began to think more about his future as he was reaching his retirement age. He figured that it would also be much safer and easier to qualify for retirement benefits as a citizen versus as a permanent resident. With these thoughts in mind, Mr. Hak made an appointment to come to one of the citizenship clinics at The Cambodian Achievement Center.

With the help of TCF staff, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA) attorneys and kind community volunteers, Mr. Hean completed his citizenship application without any trouble. He mentioned that the process was very easy and everyone was very kind and helpful towards him. In addition, because of his low-income status, Mr. Hak qualified for a fee waiver for his naturalization application. After completing his application, TCF staff gave Mr. Hak study materials for the citizenship exam and prepped him for what to expect at his interview with the USCIS officer. He recalled having a wonderful experience at the clinic and expressed gratitude and appreciation that there was “a program in place to help the Cambodian people in the community”.

Mr. Hak eventually passed his exam and just a few weeks ago attended his oath ceremony to proudly claim his American citizenship. The news brought “complete joy” to his heart and to his family—his wife, two daughters, and three grandchildren. We could not have done this without all of your support! Please help us create more stories similar to Mr. Hak’s by volunteering for our upcoming clinics or by asking your friends or colleagues to also get involved! Please look out for a future e-mail about our next cycle of naturalization clinics. Thank you!

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