Koffi Makolle sought asylum in the United States 13 years ago. The United Nations found human rights violations in his native land of Togo when people were killed during the 1998 elections.
“The democracy is not good,” Makolle said, noting that president Gnassingbe Eyadema died in 2005 after being in power for 38 years. The military then moved to install his son, but it was short-lived.
“I like America because of the freedom in this country,” he said. The 50-year-old’s four children moved here in 2009. “I’m very happy.”
Makolle has been taking citizenship classes with the Crosier Fathers and Brothers at their offices in Phoenix. Crosier Brother Jim Lewandowski organizes the 2.5-hour classes to prepare eligible immigrants for the citizenship exam and interview. He worked with immigrant communities in Nebraska and Minnesota in the past.
“They’re very hungry to learn about the American government and this country’s history,” he said. On July 13, students were delighted to learn that the 13 stripes signified the 13 original colonies and that the 50 stars represented the 50 states.
Other than the $7 materials fee, the class is free and most of his students pass the test, exam and interview. Students come to his class to get a better understanding of the test and interview and also to practice their English. Bro. Jim advises some students to get involved with an intensive English class.
“The greatest difficulty is that they don’t have the practice,” he explained. “Everything in this class is in English.”
Currently, there are 23 students enrolled in his class from such countries as Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Nicaragua, Mexico and Togo. The Crosiers see their ministry to immigrants as something that’s part of their history, Bro. Jim said.
“Crosiers came to this country from Holland as immigrants with Dutch families,” he said. “The Dutch brought their own support system.”
Ruben Reyes, an immigration attorney, gave some free legal advice during the July 13 class. He advised students to be honest about any legal interaction they had with law enforcement.
“If CIS catches you in a lie, it’s hard to rehabilitate,” he said, referring to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Establishing good moral character is essential for those seeking citizenship, he said.