“The million-dollar question is: Why are there 8.5 million people who are eligible to apply, and [only] between 750,000 and 850,000 are applying annually?” Eric Cohen asked this question as he participated in a recent panel session at the George W. Bush Center. It was largely rhetoric because Cohen gave the answer right away: “It is too hard to apply, there is a fear of applying, it is too expensive. All of these are factors that work against our economy.”

Cohen is CEO of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the New American Campaign’s coordinating agency. And he was speaking, of course, about green card holders who could, but choose not to become American citizens.

Earlier that day, former President George W. Bush spoke at a naturalization ceremony for 20 new Americans. The event was supported in part by the Carnegie Corporation and the Knight Foundation, both founding funders of the non-partisan New Americans Campaign.

“One thing the President said really stood out to me,” said Knight’s program director Damian Thorman who attended the event: “The President said: We’re a nation of immigrants, and we must uphold that tradition, which has strengthened our country in so many ways.”

Added Thorman: “Helping green card holders become citizens is not just about helping individual immigrants, it’s about strengthening all of us together, as a nation – and that is what the New Americans Campaign is ultimately all about.“

You can watch the panel session (titled “Why Naturalization Matters to the Economy”) with ILRC’s Eric Cohen in the video below.