With a certificate and plaque from "St. Hart College" in hand, Jose Sanchez soon will be able to vote and carry a U.S. passport.
"This is the most important dream come true," the 38-year-old Anaheim resident said after his graduation ceremony Thursday at his job site, St. Hart Container in Fullerton.
Sanchez and 50 other machine operators and assembly workers participated in the ceremony after completing an eight-month citizenship class at St. Hart, a manufacturing company which is a division of Sunclipse Inc. of Montebello.
The graduates, who have applied and passed all the required tests, now will participate in Immigration and Naturalization Service swearing-in ceremonies in the next two months.
With help from the nonprofit One Stop Immigration and Education Center of Los Angeles, the company sponsored the class, which may be the first of its kind in the nation.
INS officials said they had never heard of a private business sponsoring a class for employees in which the course prepares students for U.S. citizenship.
"We've worked with churches and community-based organizations that help people become U.S. citizens, but this is the first time a business took the initiative and cared enough to help their employees," said Rosemary L. Melville, an INS deputy district director.
"[St. Hart] really is letting its work force know that the company is standing with them," said Juan Jose Gutierrez, executive director of One Stop, which helps people get U.S. citizenship in California, Oregon and Washington.
Edgardo Posada, St. Hart's training supervisor, taught the course five days a week between the day and night shifts in the company's lunch room, which was converted into a classroom. His 51 pupils learned U.S. history and government and were prepared for the citizenship application process, including testing and personal interviews.
Pat Arnold, St. Hart's quality implementation manager, said she thought of starting the class "because this company believes in the people who work for it."
"We were looking for ways to teach problem-solving skills and we noticed that our employees were having a hard time going through the citizenship process so we decided to show them how to take away the roadblocks," Arnold said.
The class was so successful that, Arnold said, Sunclipse is considering teaching it at other divisions.
One Stop's Gutierrez said he hopes other companies will follow St. Hart's lead.
"I hope they will step to the plate because immigrants are hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying persons who deserve to be treated like any other American because they are responsible for a lot of the good things we have in our society," he said.