In the nearly eight years I’ve been teaching citizenship and English language classes within the Orange County Public Library system, I’ve helped thousands of people become citizens of our great nation. It’s amazing to see what happens when they pass the exam; several students have increased their earning potential and a handful now work for the Department of Homeland Security and TSA at Orlando International Airport. One former student from Mexico fulfilled a lifelong dream of becoming a flight attendant. For all of them, reciting the naturalization oath is a defining moment, not just in their lives, but the lives of their children and future generations of their families.
Our commitment to providing vital community resources is one reason we were awarded the 2018 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest museum and library honor. I have no doubt that our language and citizenship classes, aimed at integrating our city’s sizable foreign-born population, played a role in the decision.
This project of welcoming and integrating our foreign-born residents has been a city-wide effort. It’s why Orlando earned some top scores in New American Economy’s Cities Index, a new tool measuring how effectively 100 of the largest U.S. cities are helping immigrants acclimate and succeed. We received a perfect score in “Government Leadership,” which considers municipal initiatives that support immigrants, and a near perfect score in “Livability,” which looks at factors like educational attainment.