Supporting refugees in today's America


Citizenship class at the ANSOB Center


In Astoria, Queens, a small agency with four staff is coming to the aid of refugees and aspiring citizens contending with a hostile federal government.
The ANSOB Center for Refugees has been supporting the diverse immigrant communities of Queens for close to 20 years with legal services, English classes, job placement programs, and assistance with citizenship applications. After relying on volunteer instructors for English instruction, funding from CWE has allowed the ANSOB Center to hire teachers and make the classes more structured. CWE has dedicated funding over the last two years to support several immigrant-focused programs.
Its Mainstream English class meets two nights a week. Students come in with a wide diversity of native languages.
“We have Portuguese speakers, we have Spanish speakers, we have Arabic speakers, we have French speakers, we have Tibetan speakers,” says the ANSOB Center’s Executive Director and co-founder, Cathleen Joyce. “But when you walk into the English room, it’s English only.”
The ESL Civics class prepares clients for the U.S. Citizenship test and interview. They learn how a bill becomes a law and who their elected representatives are, but also the technical vocabulary that could come up in the interview.
An applicant for citizenship can be asked far from everyday questions, including “Are you a communist?” or “Do you have a title of nobility?” One wrong answer – or misunderstanding – can prevent someone from becoming a citizen in today’s climate.
“We practice and have mock interviews,” says Joyce.
In both classes, the ANSOB Center will schedule additional sessions or tutoring for students who need more help, so that no one falls behind.
The vast majority of clients live in Queens, primarily in the neighborhoods of Astoria, Elmhurst, and Woodside. The ANSOB Center has recently partnered with the Queens Library to bring its citizenship classes to the Elmhurst and Astoria branches. It has allowed the organization to reach new populations, including immigrants of Thai, Filipino, Burmese, and Tibetan decent.
Between its many programs, the ANSOB Center has served about 600 immigrants in the last year. As the federal government makes it harder for immigrants and refugees to come to the country and become citizens, the ANSOB Center is providing the support and guidance to keep their dreams alive.