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Celebrating New Americans on the Fourth of July

July 3, 2024
Naturalization applicants and volunteers sit at tables completing forms.Naturalization applicants receive assistance at a CUNY Citizenship Now! event in May 2024. (Photo courtesy of Gail Ablow)

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As we commemorate the Fourth of July, a day marking our nation’s independence and the birth of the United States of America, it is fitting to reflect on those who have chosen to make this country their home and the pride they take in American values.

On this Independence Day, we honor their hard work, hopes for the future, and heartfelt desire to become naturalized United States citizens. About half of the total immigrant population in the U.S.—approximately 24 million individuals—are now naturalized U.S. citizens, contributing to American entrepreneurship, the economy, and our social fabric.

However, the journey to citizenship remains challenging. Fewer than one million lawful permanent residents apply for citizenship each year, although over nine times that many are eligible. The naturalization process can be daunting, favoring those who speak English fluently, can afford legal assistance, and can pay the application fees. The federal government has made commendable progress in reducing the wait times for processing naturalization applications and removing some cost barriers for low-income people. Today, someone applying for U.S. citizenship would wait about five months, the fastest since 2016. The current administration has also expanded eligibility for a reduced naturalization fee to an additional 1.8 million lawful permanent residents. This progress is significant, yet many aspiring Americans still find the path to citizenship difficult.

The New Americans Campaign (NAC) strives to level the playing field. As a partnership of dedicated legal practitioners and volunteers at more than 200 organizations, we advocate for fair naturalization policies and connect people to trustworthy, often free, naturalization experts. Our network of partners spans more than 30 states nationwide. Over the past 13 years, our partners’ collective efforts have enabled over 638,000 lawful permanent residents to complete citizenship applications, saving their families an estimated $708 million in government and legal fees.

Naturalized citizens greatly enrich our nation. Every July 4, the Carnegie Corporation of New York announces its list of 24 Great Immigrants, Great Americans. This celebration of immigrants’ vital role in American life honors remarkable naturalized citizens who have made outstanding contributions to the arts, science, sports, government, and economy. The New Americans Campaign celebrates the achievements of these renowned individuals and the milestones and contributions of all the new Americans our local partners have supported across the country.

Naturalization is not just a legal process but a commitment to uphold democratic values. When individuals take the oath of citizenship, they pledge allegiance to the Constitution and the laws of the United States. For each new U.S. citizen, the naturalization ceremony is their own personal Independence Day. They cherish the benefits and rights we celebrate in our democracy this Fourth of July and every day. They look forward to having a voice and a vote.

Take, for example, Abwe Abedi from the Democratic Republic of Congo. After living in a refugee camp in Tanzania for over 22 years, Abwe and his family found a new life in Arkansas with the help of our partner organization, Canopy Northwest Arkansas. Despite the challenges of resettlement and the pandemic, Abwe used his sewing skills to support his family and community. “Becoming a citizen gives me a feeling that I am free—I have all my rights. I can help the country as a citizen,” he says. His journey underscores the resilience and determination that define the immigrant experience.

Similarly, Karen Jimenez, who came to the United States from Mexico at age 12, navigated the complexities of the DACA program and naturalization with the help of HACES (Hispanic American Community Education and Service) in Waukegan, IL. She eventually achieved her dream of citizenship. “For me, U.S. citizenship was everything I had dreamed about. I come from having nothing… I ended up here with the opportunity to succeed in a country where I can do more,” Karen shares. Her story is a testament to the transformative power of citizenship.

Yisel Pomier Maren, born in Cuba, says her family had no political or economic freedom there. When she came to the United States, she found work with the Latin American Coalition (LAC) in Charlotte, NC, helping others with the naturalization process. She counted the years and days until she would be eligible to apply. Above all, she looked forward to having a voice, “I grew up with so many ‘no’s,’ now that I have the vote, believe me, I’m going to use it.”

On Independence Day, we are reminded that the American story, from the beginning and to this day, has been written by those seeking freedom, opportunity, and a better future.

Thank you for being part of the New Americans Campaign. On behalf of the NAC team, happy Fourth of July!