LOGAN -- There is nothing Emiliano Gouarca wants more than to become a U.S. citizen. But because the 50-year-old Mexican immigrant had never been taught to read or write in any language, he failed the citizenship test twice and, after spending more than $3,700 in lawyer and application fees, now has to start over.
But he hasn't given up hope of citizenship -- he's taking a basic reading and writing class at the English Language Center of Cache Valley and plans to apply again.
A green-card holder and permanent resident of the U.S., Gouarca has been legally living and working in the country for more than 20 years. He can legally do everything a U.S. citizen can, except vote.
But because he would like his aging parents to join him in the U.S., and it will be easier for them to come once he's a citizen, Gouarca is willing to do -- and spend -- what it takes to speed up the process.
Luis Patino, a sophomore business student at Utah State University, became a U.S. citizen in April. The day he took the oath and received his naturalization certificate, Patino mailed it to the passport office so he could get his new U.S. passport by May 1 -- then used it to study abroad with the Huntsman School of Business, visiting Vietnam, China and South Korea as part of the monthlong program.
For Patino, the process of becoming a citizen was much easier -- and much cheaper -- than it has been for Gouarca.
"I'm kind of an odd case," Patino said. He explained how his father moved to the U.S. first, and with his own permanent resident status, obtained permanent residency cards for Luis Patino, his mother and 10 brothers and sisters.
The family moved to Smithfield, where Patino enrolled at White Pine Middle School and where he tackled a new language, a new culture and a new life.
"Thanks to my family and to my professors, and all the people that helped me out, I learned the language."
He was offered a full-ride scholarship to USU, and after turning 18, he decided to pursue citizenship.
"It was time to renew my permanent card, and in high school, (during) senior year, I went to Washington, D.C., for a competition with the 'We the People' citizen and constitution group," Patino said. "I wanted to go back and work for the U.S. government, and probably that was one of the biggest reasons -- because you can't work for the U.S. government if you just have a permanent resident card."
With some help from his brother, who had also gone through the process of becoming a citizen, Patino downloaded the initial application form, the N-400, and submitted his $695 application fee. He traveled to the Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Salt Lake three times -- to be fingerprinted and undergo and extensive background check; to be interviewed to determine if he qualified for citizenship; and the third time, to take the oath to uphold the Constitution and to be a good citizen.
Then he got his certificate of citizenship.
Sally Bishop, who teaches a citizenship course at the English Language Center, said the interview consists of three parts -- most of it is geared toward making sure the citizen-to-be can read, speak and understand English.
Citizenship candidates are usually required to answer questions about their application, write some sentences in English and answer questions about the history, culture and government of the U.S., she said.
The civics questions are taken from a list of 100 and can include questions about the number of representatives in the U.S. House of the Representatives, either of the world wars, the Gettysburg Address, and what the colors of the flag represent.
Gouarca, who has no problems understanding and speaking English but who failed the interview because he couldn't read or write, returned for his second chance and failed again.
The Salt Lake attorney who had guaranteed he could make Gouarca a citizen, and who by the end of the process had taken more than $3,000 of Gouarca's money, could be present but could not help him during the interview.
Patino, on the other hand, passed all three parts of the interview with flying colors and spent less because he didn't hire an attorney.
Bishop said the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration office estimates 8 million people living in the U.S. are eligible to apply for citizenship.
But what makes all the difference, Patino said, is education. It's the reading and writing skills he is learning through the English Language Center that will help Gouarca to achieve his dream of becoming a U.S. citizen, and it's Patino's educational opportunities that have made all the difference for him.
"Education is everything," Patino said. "It's the best investment that you will probably do in your life."
But not everyone in the land of opportunity realizes what they have, Bishop said.
"I was a teacher for 30 years in the public school system, and I see how (some students) take it for granted. And then you see adults come here, and they want to learn English so bad, and learn to read and write for the first time in their lives."