American Gateways and the City of San Antonio present Liliana (Lili) M. Mireles with the Proclamation for National Citizenship day!
Lili is of Mexican decent, her Mother is from San Luis, Potosi and her Father is from Muzquiz Coahuila. Which she still tries to visit when she can.
She was hired by NALEO Educational Fund in 2013 to expand NALEO’s work on the U.S. citizenship workshop model in San Antonio and Central Texas. The project was to work with the cities in Texas where there was need to offer free citizenship workshops. NALEO’s citizenship workshop model makes naturalization assistance services as accessible as possible to eligible legal permanent residents in Texas and throughout the nation. NALEO Educational Fund gathered research and experience with Latino community members, the organization learned that most Latino legal permanent residents were eager to demonstrate their commitment to the United States and embrace the opportunities of U.S. citizenship. However, they did not pursue naturalization because of difficulties in surmounting obstacles in the process, including a lengthy and complicated application form, and concerns about the English-language and civics naturalization exam. The U.S. citizenship workshop provided the full range of naturalization services in a “one-stop” process in trusted community locations. At workshops, applicants receive education about the opportunities and requirements of naturalization; assistance with completing and submitting the form; a quality control review to ensure they are eligible for naturalization; assistance with applying for a fee waiver, if they are eligible; and referrals to English-language and civic instruction. The workshop model allows applicants to obtain assistance together with family members and friends. Community volunteers who are trusted by the Latino community assist applicants at the workshops, which also provides an important public service opportunity for community members.
She started by meeting with community based organizations, government offices, Elected Officials, and anyone that served the Latino Community in the San Antonio and surrounding areas. “People would look at me while I was giving my speech as if I was crazy, but they didn’t tell me no.” She started putting the wheels in motion, to replicate the workshops that were being done in Houston along with other cities in the U.S. “I took my little red wagon everywhere I went with work.” “In it there were N-400 applications, information sheets, citizenship, questions, if it had to do with citizenship, I probably had it.”
Jacque Crouse, USCIS Community Relations Officer was one of the key figures Lili spoke early on. Ms. Crouse helped her get her foot in the door with other non-profits and organizations working with the immigrant community. These meetings led to more meetings and eventually it led them to Palo Alto College. PAC without hesitation agreed to do the first workshop which took place in May of 2013 and thus beginning partnership for years to come. Along with the workshops, the different community organizations would also host information sessions and phone banks partnering with the Mexican Consulate and Spanish Language Media. “San Antonio made my job look easy because recruiting volunteers and attorneys and everything in between was not difficult, everyone wanted to help, San Antonio is a very giving community and its people are willing to give up time to help others.”
“Some of the most memorable situations of many memorable situations is being able to help those in most need. We received information that there was a need for immigration assistance in area hospitals and we did not hesitate to meet those needs. All hands were on deck from the attorneys, the non-profits like American Gateways, and Government agencies like USCIS. We need to help and we did. If it hadn’t been for the groundwork, connections, quality, and trust that we have been able to establish in San Antonio these particular cases might not have received the attention they needed” she stated.
Mireles said, “I love that when these citizenship workshops come together no organization is competing with the other. Everyone is there with the same end goal, to help as many people on their path to citizenship.” There is a trust that has been built within the organizations and the communities. Since this project started there has been a huge turnout of people who show up for the workshops and apply for citizenship. She always tells people, if you don’t make it through this time, because you forgot something or are unsure of something; all you waste is a little bit of time. But you will know what you need for the next time.
Prior to working at NALEO Lili worked on political campaigns and in the Texas Legislature.
Thank you, Lili, for having done the groundwork so that organizations like American Gateways can put together free citizenship workshops for the San Antonio community! It all started by knocking on all those doors those six years ago to get us to where we are at now. American Gateways and its volunteers are able to help individuals on their path to citizenship.