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A Welcoming Port in the Storm

November 5, 2018

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Every day throngs of lawful permanent residents, recent immigrants and refugees pass through our country’s airports overwhelmed by the stress and confusion caused by our current immigration system. A growing number of international airports across the country are trying to alleviate the tension by rolling out the welcome mat and encouraging new arrivals to embark on a different journey—to citizenship. With the help of the “Red, White & Blue: Time for Citizenship” initiative developed by the New Americans Campaign, the Campaign’s local partners are teaming up with airports and port authorities to develop innovative ways to promote citizenship and share trustworthy services.

An aspiring citizen completes his naturalization application during a workshop at the San Francisco International Airport with help from New Americans Campaign partners of the San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative. (Photo Credit: Melissa Rodgers)

The Atlanta New Americans Campaign worked with the mayor’s Welcoming Atlanta initiative to film multi-lingual public service announcements. Arrive at the Atlanta International Airport terminal and you may catch a video of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and local partners greeting you—for example—in English and Amharic, or English and Korean, encouraging lawful permanent residents to apply for U.S. citizenship.

On Citizenship Day this September 2018, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) loaded its own video monitors with PSAs featuring Port of Seattle Commissioners greeting travelers with a smile and valuable information in English and Spanish. “By promoting citizenship, the Port of Seattle is also reinforcing an important message: immigrants are already contributing to our nation,” said New Americans Campaign partner, Rich Stolz, the executive director of One America. “By becoming citizens, they will have the opportunity to benefit from and participate fully in our community and society.”

Jamie Richardson, Senior Communications Specialist at the Office for Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs gives a warm welcome to naturalization applicants at a workshop in the San Francisco International Airport. (Photo Credit: Melissa Rodgers)

In San Francisco, New Americans Campaign partners of the San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative, with leadership from the mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs and the airport commission, held the first naturalization workshop to be hosted at the San Francisco International Airport. Other airports have begun to provide naturalization services to their own workers as well, says New Americans Campaign director, Melissa Rodgers. “We’ve seen these partnerships at airports such as San Jose, and most recently in Miami, where our Miami New Americans Campaign partners are working with New American Workforce.”

Airports and other ports of entry have many opportunities to promote U.S. citizenship. In addition to PSAs and naturalization workshops, airports could set up kiosks providing lawful permanent residents with access to information from the USCIS Citizenship Resource Center. They could also make available screening for citizenship eligibility on Citizenshipworks, enabling lawful permanent residents to get help applying for citizenship on the spot. Airports—like San Francisco International, which boasts the SFO Museum—could host exhibits modeled on the New York Historical Society’s Citizenship Project, accompanied by signage providing information about where to learn more.

By promoting citizenship, the leaders of our nation’s ports of entry provide a warm welcome and proclaim that everyone benefits when immigrants participate fully in our economy and in our communities.