Nation’s Mayors Call for National “New Americans Initiative” To Assist 8 Million Legal Immigrants Become U.S. Citizens
Mayors Emanuel, Rawlings-Blake Lead Call for Reducing Cost Barriers to Naturalization at U.S.Conference of Mayors
At its 80th Annual Meeting in Orlando, FL, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed the New Americans Initiative Resolution on “Flag Day,” June 14, 2012. The Resolution urges Mayors to create municipal initiatives that actively promote the value of U.S. citizenship and to assist immigrants with their naturalization applications. It also calls on the Federal Government to create a national “New Americans Initiative” to promote U.S. citizenship, and to reduce the barriers to naturalization, including cost. Causa Oregon, as part of The National Partnership for New Americans (Partnership), has been advocating for this coordinated national initiative while assisting immigrants to naturalize through its “Become A Citizen Now” campaign. In the first five months of 2012, this campaign has assisted 5,880 immigrants and their children to become U.S. citizens across the country.
The New Americans Initiative Resolution was sponsored by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and co-sponsored by Mayor Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore, MD, Mayor Pierre of North Miami, FL, and Mayor Kleinschmidt of Chapel Hill, NC. The resolution urges the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work to reduce barriers to citizenship, including the high cost ($680) of the N-400 citizenship application. Mayors also urged Congress to change its current requirement that all USCIS services, including U.S. citizenship, be funded fully from fees and to provide federal resources to support the costs of naturalization and promoteU.S. citizenship.
Luis Guerra, Causa’s “Become a Citizen Now“coordinator said, “Through a partnership with Oregon’s Mayors, we can work together to ensure that everyone has the support necessary to become active citizens. Cities can play a pivotal role in partnering with local organizations to turn legal permanent residents into citizens which benefits everyone.”
Causa has been hosting citizenship clinics around Oregon. In collaboration with NPNA, SOAR Legal Services, Human Rights Campaign, Immigration Counseling Services, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), churches and other community organizations, clinics held in Salem, Portland and Cornellius have provided assistance to over 355 legal permanant residents working toward obtaining their citizenship. The next clinic will be held in Central Oregon in lat August. Causa has also set-up a hotline for people to get assistance over the phone. So far, 318 people have received assistance through the 800 number.
“New citizens mean new economic growth and a shared commitment to our Democracy,” said Eva Millona, Co-chair of the Partnership and Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). “An investment in immigrant integration pays dividends not just for immigrants and their families, but for our nation as a whole.”
There are currently 8 million legal permanent resident immigrants (or “Green Card” holders) in the United States who are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. To be eligible for citizenship a legal immigrant must have resided in the U.S. for 5 years, fill out a 10 page N-400 application, pay the $680 application fee, be of good moral character, and pass both a written and oral exam on American history and government. Exceptions are made for seniors, the handicapped, and the spouses of U.S. citizens. Those immigrants fulfilling these requirements finally become U.S. Citizens at an Oath Ceremony, where they raise their right hands and pledge: “I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” For many of these immigrants, the $680 cost of applying for citizenship is a prohibitive barrier.
To help support local New Americans initiatives, the Partnership has prepared a template for municipalities and non-profit citizenship advocates to work together on creating effective local programs.
Earlier this month, Chicago Mayor Emanuel (himself the son and grandson of immigrants) announced the Chicago New Americans Initiative with USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, while hosting the first ever citizenship swearing in ceremony in City Council Chambers. The Chicago New Americans Initiative brings together the State of Illinois and City of Chicago in partnership with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) to offer assistance to thousands of eligible, law abiding, permanent residents in becoming naturalized, U.S. citizens.
Mayor Emanuel stated: “Chicago’s vitality has been built on the strength of immigrant populations that have come to enjoy new freedoms and access new opportunities. I am committed to making Chicago the most immigrant-friendly city in the world and with the Chicago New Americans Initiative, we will ensure that every law-abiding Chicagoan eligible to naturalize has access to the support they need to become full citizens in our thriving global city.”
“We are proud that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is taking the lead both here in Chicago and with mayors across this nation in helping immigrants to become U.S.Citizens,” said Joshua Hoyt, Co-chair of the Partnership, as well as Chief Strategy Executive of ICIRR.
Other members of the Partnership are creating opportunities for cities to support citizenship, such as OneAmerica of Washington State, which helped create the City of Seattle’s Office for Immigrant and Refugee Affairs last year. The new office will promote a citywide culture that understands and values the benefits that all members of our society receive when immigrants and refugee communities are successfully integrated into our civic, economic, and cultural life.
The Partnership will continue laying the groundwork for local initiatives where it is active and plans on bringing mayors from several major cities to the 2012 National Immigrant Integration Conference in Baltimore in September to announce progress. New Americans initiatives would support programs that host regular citizenship workshops in which legal permanent residents will be assisted, without charge, through the complicated and expensive process of becoming a citizen. Cities would also offer space in city facilities to host English and citizenship classes and citizenship-related education forums.
About Causa Oregon
Causa, Oregon's Statewide Immigrant Rights Organization, is the largest Latino and Latina civil and human rights and advocacy organization in the Pacific Northwest. We work to defend and advance immigrant rights through coordination with local, state, and national coalitions and allies. For more information, visit http://www.causaoregon.org/
About The Partnership
The National Partnership for New Americans (Partnership) advances the integration and active citizenship of immigrants to achieve a vibrant, just, and welcoming democracy for all. The Partnership is a national multiethnic, multiracial partnership that harnesses the collective power and resources of 12 of the largest immigrant advocacy organizations in the country to mobilize millions of immigrants for integration and transformative social change. The Partnership creates and implements innovative programs that help immigrants become active and engaged citizens working for a stronger and more inclusive democracy and a vibrant nation.