New Americans Campaign: A Colombian Perspective Sarah Burns

New Americans Campaign Mission: To modernize and streamline access to naturalization services, so that greater numbers of lawfully qualified permanent residents can take the critical step to becoming American citizens.

The Story of Dulce

Bogotá, Colombia

Dulce was a sweet elderly woman I met and helped on one of my volunteer days at New Americans Campaign. When I was assigned to help her at the computer, she greeted me with a gentle handshake in a way that reminded me of my own grandmother. Throughout the day I helped her with her N-400 and online forms, mainly translating and inputting all of the information required. The whole process took a few hours, as the amount of required information is quite extensive. Some examples of the information asked are:

  • Name and birthdate of all children
  • Address of all previous residences
  • Are you now or have you ever been associated with the SS party in Germany?
  • Have you even been a drug mule?
  • Have you every been convicted of a crime? (Even a parking ticket?)
  • And the list goes on...

Through her answers to the questions, I got to know Dulce and her backstory a bit. One story in particular caught my attention. Dulce came to Miami in 1995 with her husband and family. While here, they applied for asylum-- she said they wanted to be considered political refugees. She didn't go into specific details, but said the judge for their court case denied their application. They then had to return home to Colombia. There were a few things that stuck out to me from this story...

  • Asylum: the protection granted by a state to someone who has left their native country as a refugee. (Merriam Webster)
  • Asylum is enshrined in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It states that: 1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution, 2) this right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising fro non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principals of the United Nations. (United Nations)

Requirements for applying for asylum

1. You may only apply for asylum if you are arriving in or already physically present in the United States.

2. You fill out a Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, at the appropriate Service Center.

3. You may apply for asylum regardless of your immigration status, whether you are here legally or illegally.

4. But you must apply for asylum within one year of your last arrival in the US, unless you can demonstrate that there are changed circumstances (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services)

So why was Dulce applying for asylum? The Colombian Situation...

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently 3.5 million internally displaced persons inside Colombia, while another 500,000 – 750,000 are seeking refuge in neighboring countries.

Like most conflicts, the Colombian civil conflict has precipitated a number of immigration flows/problems. The FARC guerillas often target civilians who live in the area of paramilitary groups and kidnap them for ransom. This puts the every day civilian in danger throughout the country. Because of this, thousands of Colombians have fled the country, while others who cannot afford to do so remain internally displaced.

FARC guerillas are often recruited in their teens

Dulce's drive to apply for political asylum was most likely a by product of the violence in Colombia at the time. She, like many others, wanted to gain U.S. citizenship so that she and her family may live in peace and without fear of violence. Now, almost 23 years later, Dulce is on her way to gaining that right...

That is why places like New Americans Campaign are so crucial. The citizenship process in its entirety is confusing and requires a lot of paperwork, time, and fluency in the english language-- something a number of these applicants do not have. IN expediting and guiding them through this process, the volunteers at New Americans Campaign are helping open the doors to opportunities that come with being a legal American citizen.


  1. "Asylum," Merriam-Webster.
  2. "Article 14: Asylum," United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  3. "Requirements for Asylum," U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  4. "Why the conflict in Colombia Endures," The Economist.
  5. "Colombian Refugees: No Solution in Sight," United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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