National News

Refugees in Omaha get help applying for green cards

Posted June 24, 2018 2:30 p.m. EDT

— After living in the United States for a year, refugees can apply for a green card -- the first step to becoming a U.S. citizen. Sixty refugees living in Omaha got some help Saturday with the process of filling out the necessary paperwork.

Hamud Habane and his family were among those getting help.

Habane and his family fled the civil war in Somalia in 2008.

"When your country is destroyed, and there's civil war where you belong to, and you don't know the reason that people are fighting, that's kind of tough on the family," said Habane's son Mohamed Duale, who was 13 when the fighting broke out.

The family of 12 spent eight years in an Ethiopian refugee camp, before coming to Omaha last January.

"We really like being here and so we don't want to move to another city. We just consider Omaha our hometown," Duale said.

Their family and dozens of others began the path to U.S. citizenship Saturday with the help of Lutheran Family Services.

"We want to make sure there are no barriers to refugees as they take that journey to become citizens," said Lacey Studnicka, the director of LFS advancement.

Dozens of local attorneys volunteered to help refugees fill out the necessary paperwork to apply for green cards.

They offered their services, which normally could cost thousands of dollars, for free.

"Refugees, as newcomers to the country, oftentimes don't have the resources to hire a private attorney to get these legal services," said volunteering attorney Shane Ellison. "And without the expert, guiding hand of council, it's quite possible to make errors."

Errors would delay the process for refugees to receive green cards, and eventually become citizens.

"We've etched it into the base of the Statue of Liberty that the 'huddled masses yearning to breathe free' are welcome in this country," Ellison said .

Having help filing the applications is one of the many opportunities not lost on Habane's family.

"Being here is really a chance," said Duale. "So if you do not take advantage of this chance, then it will not be good for us, and it won't be good for the country."

It's a chance they plan on taking full advantage. Duale is studying at Metro Community College to be a nurse.

The process from refugee to U.S. citizen takes a minimum of five years.