National campaign seeks to naturalize 9 million potential citizensNational campaign seeks to naturalize 9 million potential citizens
Led by some immigration groups, it will help legal residents gain the right to vote before the 2016 elections.
Several immigrant rights organizations will go ahead with plans to hold a national citizenship campaign, despite a setback suffered this month when a federal appeals court ruled against an executive action that would have prevented some 5 million undocumented people from being deported.
“It isn’t new, but every year we renew our efforts to have our community participate and decide in every election,” said Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota. “There are 8.8 million legal residents who meet the requirements (to vote), and of these 5 million are Hispanic.”
Monterroso said “the campaign goes on” despite the adverse scenario facing immigrants. The main objectives are “to inform our community, have them file their applications, swear in as U.S. citizens and register to vote on the first Tuesday of November of 2016,” and “elect public officials that stand behind projects for our community, such as immigration reform.”
In November of 2016, the people of the United States will elect President Barrack Obama’s successor.
“The deadline for sending in the application is mid-May. The campaign is going full steam ahead. If everything goes well our community will play a determining role in the election of the next president,” he said.
Immigration and voting in the 2016 presidential election are “key issues” among Hispanics that may tip the scales in the presidential race, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).
For Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO, the 2016 presidential race is an “excellent opportunity” for new voters to express their will and decide the future of the United States.
“The impact of the Latino vote is decisive,” Vargas stated at the recent Annual Conference held in Las Vegas, Nevada.
But in order to participate “they must first become citizens,” said George Escobar, director of health and human services at Casa de Maryland, to Univision Noticias. “And after doing so they must register to vote, and go to the polls in November.”
One of the campaign's biggest challenges is “having enough support from community organizations for processing the documents needed in applying for citizenship,” Escobar said. “The procedure is complicated. It takes several months for the immigration offices to process all the information. And it also requires the permanent legal resident to have a knowledge of United States history, civics education, as well as English language skills. But most of all, it depends on our services for guiding them throughout the process. So long as we can continue to collaborate, we will reach the goals we have established.”
Another difficulty is that “many people have been residents for 10, 15, or even 20 years, and have not yet become citizens for fear that the process might reject them or because they didn’t have all the information available in order to proceed. Our organizations are changing that,” Escobar said.
The government's role
It's not just immigrant organizations that are involved in the effort to have 8.8 million legal residents become U.S. citizens. In September, President Barack Obama announced the launch of the “Stand Stronger” campaign, which seeks to raise awareness among residents who meet the requirements for citizenship, which includes the benefit of voting in the 2016 election.
“This campaign is part of the benefits of the executive action announced by President Obama on November 20 of last year,” the White House stated to Univision Noticias. “The idea is to improve the citizenship process, in order to put it within reach of legal residents.”
The campaign includes changes in the process, among them allowing the applicants “to be able to pay for the cost of the process with a credit card and spread out the payments,” the Administration said.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said that applicants must pay $600 for the processing of Form N-400, needed for applying for citizenship; the cost of taking biometric fingerprints adds $85.
Up until September, they could only pay with a cashier's check for the total cost of the process.
Other changes to the citizenship application process include a new USCIS website; new practice exams about U.S. history, civics and government; and bringing organizations from the community and the private sector into the campaign. The citizenship campaign also has a volunteer corps that supports residents during the process, the White House said.
Out of the 8.8 million permanent legal residents that qualify for citizenship, 3.4 million live in California, and most are Mexican. Another 1.7 million live in New York, 1.3 million reside in Texas, and 1.3 million are permanent legal residents in Florida.
Of the 8.8 million carrying green cards, 500,000 are originally from the Dominican Republic, the White House stated.
According to the USCIS website, the requirements for citizenship are:
· Be 18 or older at the time of filing
· Be a green card holder for at least 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing Form N-400, the application for naturalization
· Have lived within the state, or USCIS district with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence, for at least 3 months prior to the date of filing the application
· Have continuous residence in the United States for at least 30 months out of the 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing
· Be physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application
· Reside continuously within the United States from the date of application for naturalization up to the time of naturalization
· Be able to read, write and speak English and have knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government (civics)
· Be a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during all relevant periods under the law