SANTA PAULA : Immigrants Begin Their Journey to Citizenship

Teresa Skeels held hands on Saturday, the hands of more than 100 immigrants who attended a daylong workshop in Santa Paula, hoping to become U.S. citizens.

She grasped the fingers of Magdalena Castro of Somis, pressed them onto a black ink pad and rolled the fingerprints onto an Immigration and Naturalization Service form.

For Castro, 22, an inspector at a Moorpark factory who came to the United States from Mexico with her family 10 years ago, the fingerprinting was an initial step toward citizenship. She said the passage of Proposition 187 spurred her to apply in order to vote in the next election and "participate in everything."

Turning Latino residents into voting citizens was one of the goals of the workshop, said Marcos Vargas, executive director of El Concilio del Condado de Ventura, which organized the event at Santa Paula's Casa del Mexicano.

"After you become a citizen, what's the first thing you do? You register to vote," El Concilio's Greg Simons told prospective citizens in his orientation talk.

Simons briefed his audience on the requirements for citizenship: good moral character, knowledge of U.S. history and government, the ability to speak, read and write English, and five years of continuous residence in the United States.

Afterward the audience dispersed to different stations, where they filled out three-page citizenship application forms and had their pictures taken by Al Valdez of Al's Photography in Oxnard, who promised to make them look "nine years younger and 14 pounds lighter."

And they stood in the long line for fingerprinting.

Skeels, a volunteer, said she had to take care to overcome the obstacles to get a clear image of fingertip ridges. "They're sweaty and they're tense, too," she said.

But those who endured the waiting and paperwork on Saturday said it was worth it for the chance to participate, nine months from now, in a swearing-in ceremony, where, as Simons described it, "everybody will get a flag, an apple pie or a hot dog and will become a citizen."

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