8.8M immigrants not pursuing citizenship

8.8M immigrants not pursuing citizenship

AT NAM ROUNDTABLE

Of the estimated 8.8 million legal permanent residents in the United States today, fewer than one million apply for citizenship. In New York City, there are 1.5 million immigrants—with the number expected to rise to 2.5 million in the next few years—who are eligible to apply for citizenship.

What obstacles are keeping these immigrants from applying for citizenship and how can NYC ethnic media help  address these challenges?

Armed with those questions, New America Media held a roundtable meeting that focused on giving help to NYC immigrants for them to become citizens. It partnered with immigration advocates to gather community leaders and discuss possible solutions to this problem.

“Life can change dramatically when you become a citizen. This campaign needs to jumpstart. It is hard work to let people know citizenship is possible. There are programs out there to help you. You don’t have to feel that you’re too poor to do it,” said Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media.

The cost of an application for citizenship is currently at $680, not including lawyers’ fees. For many working families, the cost is prohibitive.

Not many people know however that there is a government program that issues waivers for residents who cannot afford the price.

Lawful permanent residents who receive government assistance or who have incomes under 150 percent of the poverty level may be eligible for a waiver of the application fee.

“Naturalization and citizenship is important, not just for the individuals who live here but also for the economic vitality of the city as a whole.  It is a strategy to advance all of New York together,” said Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal.

Agarwal mentioned that there are benefits associated with citizenship, among them wage growth and home ownership. This is why the city’s MOIA is also reaching out to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are eligible to apply.

Among the benefits of achieving US citizenship that were cited at the roundtable were the right to vote, run for office, hold some federal government positions and access to a US passport. Citizens can also file petitions on behalf of certain family members to join them in the United States, They can also reside outside the US without time limitations.

Aside from the high application cost, eligible immigrants do not apply because of a variety of reasons ranging from language barrier to lack of free legal assistance. Others delay their citizenship because their home countries would require visa for them when they visit their home countries with American passports.

This is what the New Americans Campaign hopes to solve. As a groundbreaking national network, NAC paves a better road to citizenship for eligible residents to better navigate the naturalization process.

NAC has built programs to make sure that the process gets easier – from mobile phone app that provides easy to use technology to partnering with community organizations to hold citizenship clinics.

“The full impact of naturalization has yet to be realized and NAC is helping us to pursue that,” said Julissa Gutierrez of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund.

Her group facilitates the full political participation of Latinos in the American political process from citizenship to public service, and naturalization is at the core of their mission. They encourage people to take the pathway to citizenship so they have the right to vote.

New York City is the fifth stop of New America Media and The New Americans Campaign for their outreach to immigrants and local media.

(www.asianjournal.com)(OCIE July 11-17, 2014 Sec A pg.1)

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