For Katherine Vargas, becoming a U.S. citizen was the most important, impactful moment of her life. Now, as The White House Director of Hispanic Media, she works alongside President Barack Obama to promote an agenda that will make citizenship a reality for countless others.
We spoke to the Colombian-born White House staffer to find out what it takes to work for the president — and how becoming a naturalized citizen made her the job a possibility:
The President and The White House recently launched National Citizenship Day. What are you hoping to achieve?
There are almost nine million people in this country who qualify to become U.S citizens but have not. We are trying to inform them about the benefits of the process.
What are some reasons people avoid becoming naturalized?
We have identified a few key factors, including cost of the test (the application, which includes the test, is $685), lack of English proficiency for taking the test, and the fact that many people are scared that they will give up their own nationality if they become Americans.
How have you tried to overcome those perceived hurdles?
We have allowed people to pay for the test with a credit card, so they can defer payments. Also, we have revamped our site so people can take practice tests online at http://www.uscis.gov/. We also have community programs where people can take civic exams and English prep exams.
You are also engaging with celebrities to help promote citizenship, correct?
Yes, we have Presidential ambassadors, like singer Dave Mathews, athlete Fernando Valenzuela, chef Jose Andres, and actress Diane Guerrero. And we are partnering with media like Latina to get the word out.
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