Deseret News Archives
Vilma Valle

Even for people who come into the United States legally, the path to naturalization isn't easy.

Take Vilma Valle, who took the oath of citizenship in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. She's lived in the United States for 20 years, after leaving El Salvador following an earthquake that destroyed her home, her life and her marriage. She left her two children with family and literally walked from Central America to California.

For years, Valle has worked as a custodian at Utah State University. She had a desire to become an American citizen, but she shied away because she didn't think she spoke English well enough, nor could she come up with enough money for the naturalization process.

Enter the students of Edith Bowen Laboratory School on the USU campus. Not only did the students help Valle study for the citizenship test, they collected money to cover her citizenship fees. Valle's next goal is to bring her children to the United States.

Valle's experience is both heartwarming and troubling. She was embraced by the faculty and students of an elementary school who helped her achieve her dream. There could be no better civics and character education lesson for students.

Surely, though, there are thousands of other people in Utah — those who entered the country legally and those who did not — who need help in mastering English and navigating the naturalization process. They, too, have made sacrifices for the dream of a better life and citizenship. In Valle's case, the dream remained out of reach for two decades due to language difficulties and difficulty raising enough money to pay for the citizenship test and other fees.

There are many immigrants in our midst. They do the heavy lifting in our economy. While many recognize that learning English would help them in aspects of their lives, most do not have the luxury of taking time away from work or their families to attend formal classes. People who are not deemed refugees have far fewer resources at their disposal.

For Valle, it took the care and concern of her school family to help her realize her dream. Who is in your midst? How might you assist them?