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Elsa Cairo Carlos and Blanca Dixon

Elsa Cairo Carlos, left, sits with Blanca Dixon at the UpValley Family Centers’ St. Helena office on Spring Street.

Second in an occasional series

In 1994, Elsa Cairo Carlos, her husband and daughter left their native land of Peru and immigrated to the United States.

Carlos is one of nearly 9,000 Lawful Permanent Residents living in Napa County who wishes to become a U.S. citizen and is doing so through the One Napa Valley Initiative and its partnership agencies, including the UpValley Family Centers.

Carlos and her family live in Angwin and she is a cafeteria worker at Pacific Union College. She is working with Blanca Dixon, the centers’ Immigration Program coordinator, who is also a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) representative. Carlos speaks only Spanish and Dixon acted as translator for this interview.

“At the time I was in Peru, the economy was so bad that I lost my job, my husband lost his job,” Carlos said. There also was rampant terrorism throughout the country, so the couple sought and received political asylum. “This country opened its doors to us, welcomed us,” the woman relates. They eventually came to Sonoma, where friends owned a restaurant. That was in 1995, a year after arriving in the United States.

The Carloses learned how to manage the restaurant and bought it from their friends. Today, Carlos’ husband and her three children, Joselin, 24, Dayana, 20, and Emanuel, 16, are all U.S. citizens. The family lives in Angwin, where Dayana attends Pacific Union College. Joselin graduated from PUC and is earning her master’s degree at the University of California at Riverside. Emanuel is a student at St. Helena High School.

Why, after being in the United States for 22 years, does Carlos want to become a U.S. citizen? She replied, “I want to become a U.S. citizen so that I have the same rights as other citizens, including the right to vote for president.”

And, in this election year, who would she vote for? “Democratic ticket, Hillary Clinton.”

Napa Valley Community Foundation

In May 2012, the Napa Valley Community Foundation released a study conducted by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., of the economic and fiscal impact of immigrants in Napa County.

That study, the first of its kind for the region, underscored the substantial economic contributions made by immigrants in Napa Valley, and also pointed to a significant citizenship gap: many immigrants in Napa County are eligible to become citizens, but they haven’t done so nearly as frequently as their peers around the state, said Terence Mulligan, foundation president, in a news release.

“Only 30 percent of Napa County’s foreign-born population have become citizens versus 37 percent in California overall,” said Ellen Dumesnil, executive director of the International Institute of the Bay Area. “There are nearly 9,000 citizenship-eligible permanent residents in Napa County, but before this project started, there were only a handful of immigration attorneys in the valley, most far too expensive for lower-income residents,” she added.

In July 2013, the Napa Valley Community Foundation and more than 125 donors and four nonprofits, including the UpValley Family Centers and the International Institute of the Bay Area, launched the One Napa Valley Initiative. The other nonprofits are On the Move and Puertas Abiertas.

In March, for the first time in Napa County history, representatives from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency of the federal Department of Homeland Security, held a naturalization ceremony in Napa. It was held at Napa Valley College and was led by John Kramar, the San Francisco director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Passport needed to visit relatives

Another reason Elsa Cairo Carlos wants to become a U.S. citizen is to get a passport, “because I haven’t been able to go back to my country since I came to the United States.” She has family back in Peru she wants to visit. “I haven’t seen them in a long time,” she said.

Dixon said she first met Carlos when she came to the UpValley Family Centers’ office in St. Helena to pay her PG&E bill. “We were talking and I asked her where she was from and it turns out we both are from Peru,” Dixon said. “We became friends and after that, she mentioned she was a green card holder, which means she is a lawful permanent resident.” Dixon told her she qualified to become a U.S. citizen and she was signed up for a workshop in Napa.

During the workshop, personnel from the International Institute of the Bay Area filled out the naturalization forms and submitted them to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. After that, Carlos passed her civics test, given in Spanish, because of her age and how long she has been in the United States. Her test was in mid-July in San Francisco.

For the civics test, applicants must study 100 questions and learn the answers, which are supplied. They must correctly answer six out of 10 questions.

At 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3, Carlos took the oath of office at a naturalization ceremony in Oakland. She is now a U.S. citizen.

She encourages everyone to apply for their citizenship, adding that with the help from the International Institute of the Bay Area and the family centers, the process is not too difficult.

Editor’s Note: The final part of the series will focus both on the civics test and the 100 questions and Carlos’ reaction to being a new U.S. citizen.

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St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star, The Weekly Calistogan and st