On March 4, President Obama released his proposed budget to fund the government for the fiscal year 2015, which begins on October 1, 2014. Included in the budget are two naturalization-related requests, both of which, if approved by Congress, promise to increase the capacity of organizations nationwide—including those affiliated with the New Americans Campaign—to help eligible immigrants become citizens.
The first is a request for funding for a citizenship and integration grant program. To quote from the budget document:
“The Citizenship and Integration Grant Program is the sole Federal program that supports the civic integration of lawful immigrants through citizenship preparation programs.”
Grants are awarded to immigrant service organizations — among them many New Americans Campaign partners and local service providers — that provide citizenship preparation classes, assist immigrants with their naturalization applications, or provide training to organizations to increase their capacity to prepare immigrants for citizenship.
Since 2009, the Office of Citizenship within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has allocated more than $40 million to the citizenship grants program — and it is estimated that more than 72,000 permanent residents have benefited as a result of these grants.
In the newly released budget, the administration is asking Congress to provide the full $10 million for the program. This makes sense: support for “the civic integration of lawful immigrants through citizenship preparation” is a worthy goal for the nation as a whole, and it is not too much to ask Congress for that small commitment.
The other request contained in the budget is something entirely new. The administration is asking that $3 million of the amount USCIS collects in premium processing fees be set aside for the creation of a United States Citizenship Foundation. The amount will also support the Foundation’s initial three years of operation. In the budget document, the foundation is described as
“…a charitable and nonprofit corporation authorized to accept private donations to support the purposes of the Foundation, which include expanding instruction and training on citizenship rights and responsibilities, supporting a multi-sector approach to immigrant civic integration in the United States, and promoting the importance of United States citizenship.”
The creation of such an entity is something that citizenship advocates have requested and the theory behind the Foundation is that there are potential corporate donors willing to spend money to help immigrants become citizens. (The National Immigration Forum’s Bethlehem Project is demonstrating the willingness of corporations to partner with immigrant service providers to help their own workers become citizens.)
Should Congress grant the request—which does not involve appropriated funds from the general treasury, but only a portion of fees collected from individuals paying a premium fee for fast-tracking a decision on their applications—it will be the beginning of a very worthwhile experiment to step up the engagement of the corporate world to help America’s newcomers become new Americans.