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Ruqiya Kahin is waiting for an appointment to take the U.S. citizenship test. If the timing works out, the 25-year-old from Somalia may be able to vote this fall. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)

Some students hoping citizenship comes in time to vote

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- If the timing is right, Ruqiya Kahin and Khadra Dayl may be able to vote on Nov. 6.

Kahin, 25, and Dayl, 43, have been studying for their citizenship tests and are waiting to have their appointments scheduled.

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Luis Cabrera, 36, started studying for his citizenship a little later, but he is no less anxious to gain his rights as a citizen.

The three students were studying last week with instructor Jennifer Van Eps. The class is offered through the Willmar Community Education and Recreation Department's Adult Basic Education Program.

The program helps students prepare for the citizenship test that all new citizens must pass. The practice test has 100 questions. In their test, they will be asked 10 of them and must get six right to pass.

They must also be able to have a conversation with an examiner in English and to write an English sentence the examiner reads to them. They get three tries. The total cost of becoming a citizen is about $1,000, the students said.

Van Eps said Kahin and Dayl, both from Somalia, probably have a good chance to vote, if they pass their tests on the first try. Cabrera, who is from Cuba, won't be able to vote this year, because he isn't as far along in the process. All came to this country as refugees.

Voting in U.S. elections is one of the prime goals for new citizens.

"I would like to participate and take part in the democracy in this country," said Cabrera. "In my country, you don't have a choice."

All of the students talked about how much they have learned about their new nation's history. Remembering the information about the wars was difficult, said Dayl, but she has learned about the constitution and Independence Day.

Cabrera said pronunciation of English is his biggest obstacle, although he was able to understand and answer questions during his class last week.

At the end of class, Van Eps went through a set of flash cards with government and history questions, and the three students got nearly every one right. They knew that George Washington is called the father of our country, and they could name the capital and governor of Minnesota and the capital and president of the United States.

Their goals after becoming citizens are varied.

Kahin said she wants to have a U.S. passport. She plans to get her GED and go to college to become a nurse.

Dayl is looking forward to being able to have her husband, who still lives in Africa, come to this country. After that, she said, she plans to continue learning English and spend time with her reunited family.

For Cabrera, who is a pastor in the Seventh-Day Adventist church, citizenship will bring him one step closer to his dream of studying for a doctorate in history and theology. His family came from Cuba as refugees, after his father was jailed for not sending his children to school on Saturdays for religious reasons.

"I would like to participate and take part in democracy," he said. "In my country, you don't have a choice. ... This country opened for me all the doors."

A new life

Life changes with American citizenship, said Ruth Moncada of Willmar, 36, who has been a citizen for about two years.

"I've learned a little bit more English," she said, and her supervisor at work has discovered that she's a lot more talkative than he thought.

She'll get a chance to vote in her first presidential election this year, she said, and she has been looking forward to it.

"I'm so excited, I'm waiting for the day," she said. "A lot of people, they have the opportunity and they don't vote; I don't know why."

Her improving command of English has made it possible for her to teach Spanish classes for English speakers. "I've always dreamed of doing it," she said. "Before, it wasn't possible, because I couldn't communicate. ... If you don't know English, you can't do anything." Her ongoing goal is to learn at least one new word every day.

She is working toward her GED and her long-term goal is to be a nurse. She already volunteers at Rice Care Center. "It's nice to work with old people, old kids," she said with a smile.

Perhaps one of the most important things she can do as a citizen is bring family members here legally, and she's in the process of bringing her mother to live with her.

"She never thought she was going to be here with me," she said.

Going to Mexico is much easier with citizenship than it was with a green card, Moncada said. There were always questions for someone with a green card. Now, she declares herself a U.S. citizen and there are no more questions.

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