The Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network, more commonly known as BIIN, will have the first of its 10-week English and citizenship summer classes Saturday.
Jim Kracht, parish liaison for Bryan's St. Andrews Episcopal Church, said the classes, which will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., will be "content-heavy" and focus on the "value system of Americans."
"The class gives folks a really strong basic idea of the kind of government our Constitution provides," Kracht said.
To participate, students must be legal permanent residents, meaning they possess green cards and "are lawfully authorized to live permanently within the United States," according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website. There are a number of ways to become a legal permanent resident -- including through employment or becoming a "treaty investor," which requires applicants to invest a large sum in an American business -- but the most common way is through family-based sponsorship, in which family members with legal permanent residency sponsor those who want to apply for a green card. The application process can take years.
"Most of our folks are local. They've been here a while," Kracht said.
The citizenship classes are free and prepare students for the civics portion of the citizenship test, a difficult examination that requires hopeful Americans to answer six of 10 questions correctly -- from a list of 100 -- before they can earn their citizenship.
BIIN's citizenship class is not a prerequisite for the test, but Mary Campbell, the English citizenship class instructor, said the 10-week course gives students "practice with the interview," helping to calm anxious nerves, and arms students with "little tricks" to remember test answers.
The citizenship classes run from Saturday through Aug. 5. English citizenship classes are from 10 a.m. to noon, while Spanish classes are from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Kracht and Campbell said some students will take the classes in English and Spanish, to both make sure they don't miss anything and practice reciting answers in English.
"These are committed individuals," said Kracht.
Nancy Plankey-Videla, the instructor for the Spanish citizenship class, said in a text message that many of her students are in their 60s and working full time; those who wish to take the citizenship test in Spanish must be at least 50 years old and have been legal permanent residents for 20 years, so there are many students in the Spanish citizenship class who are older legal permanent residents who hold low-wage jobs, said Plankey-Videla.
For those who don't speak English, BIIN will have English conversation classes on Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m. during the same time frame as the citizenship courses. Kracht said the classes are centered on interactions people have on a day-to-day basis, like how to complete a retail transaction or talk to police and school officials.
BIIN is still looking for volunteer one-on-one conversational partners to talk with students taking the English class. Kracht said the volunteers don't have to speak Spanish or dedicate "a great deal of time," but that these conversational partners "really work wonders."
Campbell said she isn't sure how many are currently registered for her citizenship class, but her most recent class had around 40 students.
"That's a lot, in my experience," said Campbell, who has been teaching citizenship classes at BIIN for two years.
"I think the election spurred a lot of interest," Campbell added. A lot of her students told her they'd taken the class to become citizens to vote in the presidential election, or for peace of mind, giving them an added layer of legal protection as U.S. citizens.
All the classes will be at 107 Williamson Drive, on the St. Michael's Episcopal School campus. Campbell said the classes are open during the entire 10 weeks, and that students can register during BIIN's regular office hours, from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays. She encouraged all to attend -- including non-Spanish-speaking permanent residents seeking help in their citizenship test studies -- even if students cannot attend all 10 of the classes.
"We want everybody," she said, adding that if more people come than expected, "we'll just bring in more chairs."