• Mission Accomplished: Roosevelt Senior Helps Green Card Holders Obtain U.S. Citizenship

     Alondra in the Classroom

    For the past three years, Alondra Nieves Barajas has been both student and teacher.

    Most days, the senior from Roosevelt High School attends class, does her homework, and spends time with her friends just like any other 18-year-old. But on Wednesday nights, you can find her at the front desk, teaching adults – often much older than herself – the ins and outs of the United States naturalization test.

    Alondra’s work is on behalf of the non-profit Mission: Citizen, a Portland-based organization aimed at helping green card holders obtain U.S. citizenship. 

    “The students are so appreciative and grateful and attentive,” Alondra said. “They’re so thankful that someone is there to help them with things they would have a hard time doing on their own.”

    Roosevelt instructional coach Deanna Delgado started Roosevelt’s Mission: Citizen chapter in 2018, hoping that it would make a difference both in the lives of immigrants pursuing American citizenship and in students like Alondra who are eager to get out into the community to help others.

    “It’s become very student-driven at this point,” said Delgado. “The young people have taken the lead and this work is very personal for them. Their involvement isn’t about padding their resume. They’re helping people who have some of the same life experience as their friends and family. They really put their heart into this and you can see that reflected back in the trust and respect their students have for them because they know they’re being taught by someone who cares about them.”

    Alondra was initially inspired to get involved with Mission: Citizen after talking to her AP Spanish literature teacher, Mario Gutierrez Valiente.

    “I was really intimidated by the teaching aspect,” Alondra said, “but he told me I could just go and check out one of the classes at first just to see if I thought it might be something that interested me.”

    It didn’t take long before Alondra was hooked.

    “I liked talking to the students and answering their questions and meeting them where they’re at,” she said. “I remember one man in particular – he really appreciated that we were there to help him with handling all the complexity that goes with the citizenship test. He didn’t have anyone at home to help with it and he was so grateful.”

    Gutierrez Valiente understands such gratitude well. Originally from Spain, he went through the naturalization process himself in 2019 and knows first-hand how costly and intimidating it can be without help.

    “The cost of immigration services isn't possible for a lot of immigrants, but Mission Citizen brings in a lawyer to help guide members of the community on their path toward citizenship,” he said. “They also learn about the history of the United States, which is on the citizenship exam. It creates a safe space for the community to learn about the immigration process.”

    Alondra was instrumental in recruiting lawyers to come to the classes and offer guidance and advice. According to Gutierrez Valiente, that invaluable service would not be available to Mission Citizen students without Alondra’s hard work and determination. 

    “She has made the program better, making it possible to have an immigration lawyer come and answer questions on a pro bono basis, which hadn't happened in years. She made so many calls to make that possible, and spends so much of her time trying to help these members of the community.”

    After graduation, Alondra plans to study biology and Spanish at Portland State University with the hopes of eventually going on to medical school to become a radiologist. She is turning over the reins of Roosevelt’s Mission Citizen chapter to another student very soon. 

    “It’s a happy sad thing,” she said. “I’ll miss the students, but I’ve been working pretty hard to promote the program to other kids in my school…People get it. Citizenship comes with so many benefits, and when you help someone achieve that, it opens them up to opportunities they might not otherwise have.”