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Jesús Torres Núñez: NAC Tests Life in the Fast Lane

March 13, 2018

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We organized a Fast Lane for the first time at our annual Miami New Americans Campaign mega event. It was an idea that came from Randy McGrorty, the CEO at Catholic Legal Services of the Archdiocese of Miami (CLS Miami), and Ana Quiros, the managing attorney who oversees the naturalization team. As a group we talked about how our collaborative could make some of the processes faster for our clients. The way that we advertised it to the community was, “Why wait in line? Skip the line today! Beginning on a computer at home, if you complete at least 95% of the application, then on the day of the event you can finish in 45 minutes or less.”

Fast Lane

The Fast Lane was geared toward people who first began their application on Citizenshipworks, which is an online platform that any citizenship applicant can use, and that a lot of NAC partners  have adopted. When Fast Lane participants arrived, they registered separately, and were given an identifying red band. They then skipped the intake and legal screening and jumped right into finalizing their application, or into a quality review with an attorney or DOJ-accredited representative.  A regular flow has six or seven stations while the Fast Lane had just four. After a few initial bumps, we figured out the flow, and Fast Lane applicants completed the process in 20 to 25 minutes on average, drastically dropping the waiting time. We had as many as 50 people who participated in the Fast Lane and the longest it took anyone to compete the application was 42 minutes. We were very happy and it was super-successful!

Hayat Ahmed from International Rescue Committee Atlanta, doing final legal review for a Fast Lane applicant

I absolutely loved the process transformation presentation at the conference by Melissa Stratman from Coleman Associates. We were encouraged to think outside the box, and to think about the naturalization workshop participant’s experience more. She pointed out that those of us who put on workshops all the time begin to think “linearly.” That is literally true in our case, we have stations lined up and participants go from station to station.  I wrote down a quote from Melissa that really hit home: “Why do we think so linear and absolute, when some of the requirements are not truly requirements for our workshops?”

Volunteer orientation by Jesús Torres Núñez, New Americans Campaign Coordinator at CLS Miami

I think what she meant was that we never really take time to step back and look at the event from a different perspective because we’re so busy with what we’re doing there. We may continue practices because they work, but they don’t always work for our participants. For example, Randy McGrorty, Ana Quiros, and I began to wonder whether the folders we require for our naturalization workshop participants were really necessary. If a person creates an account on Citizenshipworks, all the biographical information necessary for an intake sheet is there. We could both eliminate repetition and save on the costs of printing paper. Another interesting model that has been used by some NAC partners and could be used by partners across the nation would be to circulate the workshop stations around the participant instead of moving the participant from station to station. This would minimize the amount that people had to move or wait in new lines.

An idea that we are looking into is having a US postal services (USPS) person on site at our workshops. This would allow participants who are ready to file to mail in their applications that same day. Applicants are often very nervous about going to the post office with all their paperwork and unintentionally losing parts of their application. So we’re hoping that the USPS will be at our 2019 Miami NAC mega event. We’re currently working with a sales representative to see if that can happen.

The texting platform called Rep also looks like it could be a great solution to the Miami NAC’s ongoing search for a way to contact participants for our mega events.  We have been lucky thus far to advertise in multiple Miami media streams for free by developing ongoing partnerships with community partners such as Univision and ethnic media radio stations as well as the Archdiocese of Miami itself (consisting of over 250 entities). But this can be a problem if we have a huge influx of calls and text messages that we don’t have the technology to manage.  So I will be learning about various Rep features like bulk, pre-scripted messages, in multiple languages, that can be sent to many people at once.

(L-R) Juliana Cabrales (NALEO Educational Fund); Mayra Lopez (NALEO Educational Fund); Jesús Torres Núñez (CLS Miami); Juan Gallegos (Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition)

Finally, during the workshop, I met many volunteers who were a big help, including NAC partners from across the country. But Mayra Lopez from NALEO Educational Fund in Los Angeles (a site leader of the LA NAC) really stood out. She went above and beyond.  She was there from the beginning, checked in with me often to see where I needed help as did many coordinators from various organizations across the nation.  Ms. Lopez literally jumped from registration to filling out the N-400, to filling out the fee waivers. And she not only stayed until the last applicant completed her form but she actually did that workshop participant’s fee waiver. Ms. Lopez showed the power of partnerships as well as the passion that we all share when helping lawful permanent residents apply for naturalization. Volunteers like that allow us all to do the work that we do.

Jesús Torres Núñez is the Human Resources Coordinator and the New Americans Campaign Coordinator for Catholic Legal Services, Archdiocese of Miami, Inc. (CLS Miami). He was also in charge of Miami’s 2018 mega workshop.