Early this past Saturday, nearly 150 immigrants and their families from all over the world trekked to southern Los Angeles County and eagerly waited in line for their chance to take the crucial next step to becoming an American citizen. The huge Inglewood church quickly filled with the sounds of many languages, from Spanish to Vietnamese to Hindi, as volunteers and immigrant service providers smoothly filtered and ushered groups of eligible legal permanent residents through a step by step journey through the naturalization process.
Many of the attending immigrants had been eligible for citizenship for years, but were intimidated by the confusing paperwork, the long struggle to navigate the inefficient system and the expensive $680 application fee.
“I’ve had to wait for so many years to finally apply, but today all of these really helpful people made it much easier than I thought it would be,” said Mr. Mohamedali, a Sudanese immigrant who came to the U.S. to further his education and find more opportunities. “I wish more people would come see this and take this step… and it makes me want to become a volunteer after I’m done.” Mohamedali has lived in California for 24 years and confidently states, “I want to stay in this country for the rest of my life.”
The “Group Processing Workshop” was hosted by dozens of partner members of the national New Americans Campaign (NAC). The workshop is just one example of how the New Americans Campaign is transforming the way aspiring citizens navigate the path to becoming new Americans.
The massive auditorium was turned into a series of stations, taking people through the entire process- from understanding their eligibility, to fully filling out their application with expert help from service providers and attorneys, all the way to getting their photos to attach to the application. And in the end, each applicant was given a set of informational and study materials, including interview practice sheets and a box of English and civics flashcards to enable them to pass the exams required for naturalization.
Over 100 volunteers and staff worked together to provide these comprehensive services in fifteen different languages. They reflected the diversity of the NAC collaboration as well as the diverse immigrant communities in the Los Angeles area.
“These types of Mega Workshops are a key element of how the New Americans Campaign is helping thousands of eligible green card holders achieve their dream of citizenship,” explained Leah Muse-Orlinoff, Best Practices Manager of the Campaign. “Through our focus on collaboration and innovation, we’ve already created over 700 naturalization events across the country, assisting about 40,000 aspiring citizens in applying for citizenship.”
The partner groups came to LA from all over the country for the annual New Americans Campaign conference, an impressive gathering of the nation’s leading immigration and citizenship experts and organizations. Together we work to transform the way aspiring citizens navigate the path to becoming new Americans, by improving the system of naturalization assistance.
Eric Cohen is executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, which leads the New Americans Campaign, a bi-partisan national network of legal-service providers, faith-based organizations, businesses, foundations and community leaders working to modernize and streamline access to naturalization services.