For some immigrants the path to citizenship is long and costly. For others, it’s nonexistent. Even in the best of circumstances, when immigrants have a path to legalization, becoming a citizen involves knowing the system, having the economic resources to pay a lawyer, and having the time to file a case. Usually, families from the low-income bracket do not have either.
But the effort is worth the price. Citizens can fully participate in the democratic life of their country. The naturalization process brings invaluable opportunities and responsibilities.
The Phoenix area now has an ally to help lawful permanent residents (LPRs) apply for residency, in many cases at no cost at all.
Citizenship Now! originated at City University of New York (CUNY) and since 1997 has provided free citizenship and immigration services to the Big Apple’s LPRs. Now, through a partnership with the University of Arizona, it’s expanding its services to Phoenix. Citizenship Now! offers high quality and free legal services focusing on citizenship applications to assist low-income individuals and families.
In 2013 the population of LPRs was calculated at 13,300,000 people. From this group, 8,770,000 were eligible to become citizens through naturalization. But not all eligible people pursue citizenship, even when they are very inclined to.
“Arizona has one of the largest populations of eligible permanent residents who have yet to apply for citizenship,” says attorney Noriana Hermes, who is in charge of Citizenship Now! in Phoenix. “The organization has expanded to Arizona to remove the difficulty of applying for citizenship by providing pro bono legal assistance for all legal permanent residents seeking citizenship.”
It is estimated that 200,000 LPRs of Mexican origin live in Arizona, and eight of 10 are eligible to obtain U.S. citizenship. However, only 40 percent of them will start the process.
Among those who have not yet naturalized, the desire to apply for the process is strong, but they encounter many obstacles along the way. Ninety-three percent of Hispanic immigrants who have not yet naturalized say they would naturalize if they could. In all demographics, the desire to naturalize and become a citizen is equally high.
“Permanent residents are people who have already been an integral part of our communities for years, even decades,” says Hermes. “We are now giving them the legal assistance to take that final step of attaining citizenship. We look forward to adding services to the community and working with other established community organizations.”
Surveys pinpoint barriers such as language, plus financial and administrative obstacles. Lacking money to file with USCIS is a definite barrier, but Citizenship Now! analyzes clients’ cases and assesses if they qualify for a fee waiver, so all costs are avoided.
“It is more important now than ever that we empower everyone in our community to fully participate in our democracy in Arizona,” says Hermes. “Helping residents to take that final step to citizenship empowers more people to take an active role in Arizona by voting, serving on juries, and running for public office – rights that they will now have as citizens.”
Citizenship Now! partners with organizations such as Arizona Summit Law School, Mi Familia Vota, the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, Juntos Podemos, and the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. The organization will be holding collaborative events.
If you are eligible to become a citizen, please make an appointment by calling 602-827-2640.