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Aurora ESL class gives crash course in civics

State Representive LindChapLaVispeaks an immigrant refugee class IglesiBautistEmanuel Church AurorMonday December 3 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

State Representive Linda Chapa LaVia speaks to an immigrant and refugee class at Iglesia Bautista Emanuel Church in Aurora on Monday, December 3, 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 11, 2013 6:07AM

AURORA — Arriving in the United States can feel like a “Civil Rights overload” for some immigrants and refugees, according to State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia of Aurora.

Chapa LaVia’s message last week to a group of World Relief students was that no matter what country they come from — and whether a dictator, king or democratically-elected president was ruler — their voice in this country carries power.

The World Relief English as a Second Language classes, held in the basement of Iglesia Bautista Emanuel Church on Claim Street, serves immigrant and refugee students from Mexico, Nepal, Burma, Ukraine, Egypt, Argentina, Laos and a dozen other countries.

“You suddenly have so many (rights),” Chapa LaVia said. “Even our poorest people are rich in that you have a voice and power to change the world.”

Chapa LaVia’s visit was part of a civics curriculum for the World Relief ESL classes, a push from the state to encourage the students to not only learn English, but to also become active and involved community members. The effort is funded by state and federal grants.

The class focuses on competency in five areas: the democratic process, community resources, the U.S. school system, health services and housing, according to Jennifer Stocks, World Relief communications manager.

ESL teacher Jenny Siegfried of Oswego said the class elected an English class president during another lesson on American government this year.

“Some (immigrants) come from a representative democracy, but a lot of others come from dictatorships or even from refugee camps — a lifetime without rights,” Siegfried said.

In an era where immigrants often get negative feedback from government, Chapa LaVia said it’s important to remember that our nation was founded by immigrants. Chapa LaVia said she is a fifth-generation American of Mexican, Italian and Spanish heritage.

“Their children could be president, or cure cancer,” she said.

“Education is the key to success.”

Alma Garcia, who emigrated from Mexico to Aurora, asked Chapa LaVia about anti-bullying programs at her child’s school.

She said information about the American immigration process also is vital.

“Everyone has rights but nobody knows their rights,” she said.

“That’s why we need the information.”

Lilia Garcia, an ESL student from Aurora, said she was interested to hear about a push to approve driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in the state.

“(The driver’s license) would be very helpful for all people. Many people need driver’s licenses to get to work, schools or college,” Garcia said.

The plan would equip as many as 250,000 undocumented immigrants with three-year temporary driver’s licenses after they receive rules-of-the-road training and offer proof they had obtained auto insurance.

“Whether we like it or not, people are driving because they have to put food on the table for their families,” Chapa LaVia said.

It is in the state’s best interest that the people driving receive training from the state and are insured, she said.

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