Celebrating Our New Citizens

March 7, 2022


The pandemic may have caused the “swearing in” ceremony to go virtual, but it couldn’t stop Union members from taking part.

Screen Shot 2022-03-07 at 1.14.25 PM.pngThe healthcare field has long attracted recent U.S. immigrants, who bring their skills and commitment from around the world. To help ensure that Union members enjoy all the benefits and privileges of living in this country, the 1199 Citizenship program was set up more than 20 years ago.

Yan Looi, a Home Health Aide with the Manhattan-based First Chinese Agency, took the program’s classes before the pandemic. “The course was very helpful,” Looi said. “Not only because of the teacher and students, but we also helped each other learn.”

Originally from Malaysia, Looi attended a citizenship swearing in ceremony in February of 2020 at Federal Plaza, a month before the pandemic shut the country down.

Recognizing that civic engagement is an important part of citizenship, Looi joined a delegation of 1199SEIU members, as they headed to Washington, DC for a national demonstration last November to lobby Congress for more money to support fair wages for homecare workers.

Another politically active union member, Antoinette Rose, came to the United States from Jamaica in 2004 with her mother, Blondell Clark, and three siblings. Her mother filed for citizenship for all four children shortly after they arrived. But while she had a green card, Rose’s citizenship paperwork got lost, and for years she was unable to verify her citizenship status.

In the meantime, Rose, a Union delegate and Medical Analyst at Montefiore Medical Center in Tarrytown, NY, threw herself into Union and city politics.

She has served as a delegate to the NYC Central Labor Council and campaigned for Democratic candidates for a variety of local and state offices.

Rose was also on the employee committee that convinced Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx to provide shuttle buses to the Tarrytown facility. “If they had no buses, we would have to pay another $300 a month to get to work on the Metro North train,” Rose said.

Politics was even a consideration when she took part in the 1199 citizenship program last year to prepare for the exam. “I didn’t want to become a citizen while President Trump was in office,” said Rose.

Colletta Seales, who came to the U.S. in 2014 from Guyana, said a site visit from an 1199 organizer convinced her to sign up for the citizenship classes.

“The classes were great! I am very happy,” said Seales, a Home Health Aide with Personal Touch Home Care in Long Island City, Queens, who was sworn in at Federal Plaza last year.

“The classes really help prepare you. I wish my family could have been there when we were sworn in, but we did get pictures we could share with them.

“I will always be grateful to the union because they paid a lot of the expenses I would have had to pay, and it is not cheap.” she said.

Yanique Bell, a Home Health Aide with All Metro Health Care, had to be sworn in virtually because of the pandemic. “I had classes and studied online,” Bell, originally from Jamaica, said. “The test was not hard because the [1199 Citizenship] course prepared me—and I prayed before I took it. “It was a really good course.

They would tell you when you had an appointment, what you needed and made sure you had it. They even put in the papers for me. That made everything easy.”

1199 Magazine: January - February 2022