Vol. 7 / No. 2 / Summer 2013  

The New Americans Campaign

by Joyce Baldwin

Helping Immigrants Become U.S. Citizens

The New Americans Campaign reaches out to immigrants who are legal permanent residents and encourages them to become U.S. citizens. Launched in 2012, the nationwide effort is already making an important difference.
Sometimes immigrants need an extra nudge to take the first step along the path to U.S. citizenship and all the rights and responsibilities that citizenship entails. Naturalization boosts immigrants’ income possibilities and opens the door to full civic participation, including voting in elections, serving on juries, and being able to travel with a U.S. passport. In turn, these citizens bring fresh talent pools and skills to the country’s workforce and enhance the cultural richness of U.S. society.

But the naturalization process that leads to U.S. citizenship can be challenging, complicated and expensive, and can require legal expertise to avoid the risk of deportation. The process, as well as personal obstacles that immigrants face, can be so daunting that the 8.5 million legal permanent residents (LPRs) who are eligible to apply for citizenship have not done so, and fewer than one million LPRs naturalize annually.

Now, an innovative and unprecedented coalition of legal-service providers, businesses, faith-based groups, community leaders, and nonprofit foundations has launched the New Americans Campaign (NAC) to encourage LPRs to embark on the journey to naturalization and help them navigate the process. The NAC substantially expands the limited capacity and resources available to future citizens and brings a fresh intensity and focus to the issue, using a wide range of services and outreach techniques, including free large-scale application-processing workshops combined with innovative technology efforts, all of which are delivered in multiple languages. One benchmark that indicates how successful this effort has been is that the Campaign increased its collaborations from 160 with 72 partners to 438 with 107 partners in the year following the first quarter of 2012. The NAC’s broad efforts include innovative partnerships with public libraries, schools, and universities; the Campaign has also developed a large-scale volunteer recruitment program. This vigorous effort reaches diverse communities and has built an infrastructure for its nationwide partners that supports an ongoing learning community to spread best practices within the field, deploy new technology, increase access to English and civics classes and prepare for the future by increasing the organizations’ sustainability.

The Campaign also seeks to bring attention to the area of naturalization and to reach people at the federal, state, and local level who are system changers. In an early 2013 letter to the Obama administration, the Naturalization Working Group (co-conveners: National Immigration Forum and NALEO Educational Fund) outlined actions to make the naturalization process more accessible, and its recommendations for financial accessibility and creation of an Office of New Americans are included in the Senate’s proposed bill to reform
federal immigration.

“Our dual goal is to try to help as many people become naturalized as possible while also building capacity in the sites for furthering the services in the future,” says Eric Cohen, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), which is the campaign’s main coordinator. “We want to transform the entire system of naturalization assistance through new levels of collaboration and innovation among the nonprofits, businesses, and other institutions that assist legally qualified residents in becoming
U.S. citizens.”

The bipartisan nature of the NAC is ensured by the support of Doris Meissner and James W. Ziglar, who have served as commissioners of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), now known as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Meissner served in the Clinton presidency, and Ziglar, in George W. Bush’s administration. The former commissioners, who are senior fellows at the Migration Policy Institute, will spearhead a bipartisan advisory committee to support the NAC efforts and highlight its commitment to citizenship for immigrants as important for strengthening U.S. society.

In November 2012 Carnegie Corporation of New York announced a $5 million grant to help launch the Campaign, joining the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund; the Grove Foundation; Open Society Foundations; and the JPB Foundation as the convening funders. Nine national organizations2 as well as many regional groups, all with wide experience in the field, are partnering in the effort. The Campaign has knit together 80 organizations nationwide that are committed to the groundbreaking effort. In July 2011 the Corporation awarded $2 million to the ILRC, which was also the hub of the pilot phase of the initiative that began in July 2011.

Major National Campaign

The Campaign seeks to revamp the field of naturalization assistance, smoothing the path to citizenship for eligible legal immigrants by providing expert assistance and encouragement. At one-day mega workshops, service providers help hundreds of people with their naturalization applications; an interactive Web site, CitizenshipWorks, guides prospective citizens through the application process; text messaging provides updated information and electronic tools such as MP3 players and smart phones help people prepare for civics exams, expand their English vocabulary and prepare for interviews. The CitizenshipWorks “toolkit” is a comprehensive, easy way for people to determine their eligibility for naturalization, study for citizenship tests, find legal help, learn about upcoming naturalization events, and, in general, get their questions about naturalization answered. In 2012 the online tool won the Webby Award and the Webby People’s Voice Award for Best Law Site and an evaluation conducted in 2013 showed that even for applicants who had never used a computer, 78 percent said it was “easy” or “very easy” to use CitizenshipWorks.

Outreach through the Ya Es Hora! campaign on Univision and its local affiliate stations has helped broadcast information to the public; as a result of these efforts from January to March in 2013 there were more than 2,000 hotline calls and 33,000 visits to the Web site. The NAC has developed media content in Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Pakistani, Spanish, Vietnamese, and English. Other avenues for building connections and sharing ideas include webinars and NAC-Ning!, an online opportunity to share tips, get technical assistance, connect with colleagues on a forum, and continue to build a sense of community.

The NAC partners in New York City; Charlotte, N.C.; Miami; Dallas; Detroit; Houston; Los Angeles; and San Jose focus not only on the urban areas but also reach out to rural communities and other immigrant groups that need assistance but have previously had little or no support because they are hard to reach. Together these sites have 3.3 million citizenship-eligible individuals, representing more than 40 percent of the LPRs in the United States. One of the sites, Los Angeles, has immigrants representing 140 countries who speak 224 languages; another site in Dallas is home to more than 780,000 immigrants who have not yet naturalized.

In each site several organizations work together, bringing their specific skills and experience to maximize the effort. For example, the Dallas site partners with the Catholic Charities of Dallas, the International Rescue Committee in Dallas, and Proyecto Inmigrante. Partners in other sites include the Organization of Chinese Americans, the Cambodian Association of America, and the Filipino American Service Group, Inc. In Detroit, site leader Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan (CCSEM) partners with the International Institute of Metro Detroit, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, and South Asian American Voices for Impact to hold workshops. “The wide range of immigration-related services offered by practitioners on the local and national levels could not be accomplished without our funders’ sincere commitment to American democracy,” says Jeanne Salerno, immigration services coordinator of the department of immigration and refugee services of CCSEM. “Our national funders have our deepest respect and gratitude.”

A three-day conference held in September 2012 in Baltimore, Md., offered an opportunity for partners across the nation to share information and deepen their collaborative relationships. In May 2013, more than 100 people from Campaign partner groups came together in Los Angeles at the United for Citizenship National Naturalization Practitioners’ Conference, sharing best practices they had honed in their communities and offering tips and lessons learned from their experiences. “It was so powerful,” says Melissa A. Rodgers, who is project director of the Campaign. “Just for the topic of best practices in group processing, we had people from Texas, Florida, California, and New York, all coming together and communicating ways that work. Building a national infrastructure is really a key component of what we want to achieve, and we saw that in action at the conference.” She said the conference was enormously helpful in cementing the Campaign’s national infrastructure since it offered opportunities for participants to share knowledge about how to scale up best practices in organizing a group processing workshop, how to recruit and train volunteers effectively and keep them involved, how to develop effective outreach strategies, and how to incorporate technology, among many other things. Rodgers said that although some best practices might seem pedestrian, they are crucial to success. Establishing training schedules for volunteers and clear roles for them as workshop participants as well as setting up a hierarchy and workflow, with some people responsible for checking in potential applicants, others involved in legal screenings, and still others ensuring that people move with ease from one station to another are all important to planning and executing a successful event. Some panel participants shared tips that were eye-opening to other attendees, i.e., one presenter described an upcoming workshop for 1,000 people that is being planned in coordination with a local college, with the school providing free parking, security, and access to computers, as well as other essential services. “Sharing ideas for these kinds of best practices is making organizations stronger for the long run, not just for now,” she emphasized. “We’re reaching tens of thousands of people, but we are also building a mechanism that over time, even when the granting is ended, is going to enable us to reach many more people. We are focused on the long view as well as on the immediate urgency.”

In May 2013, more than 100 people from the New Americans Campaign partner groups participated in a United for Citizenship Naturalization Practitioners' Conference in Los Angeles to share experiences and best practices.

High Fees an Obstacle

Low-income aspiring citizens have to weigh their dreams of becoming U.S. citizens against urgent considerations such as whether to pay the application fee for naturalization or put food on the table and pay the rent. Although fee waivers are available, information about this and how to file the waiver is not widely known among members of the immigrant communities. The NAC is working to change that. At nearly 1,000 NAC workshops immigration experts already have helped eligible low-income people fill out forms to obtain waivers for the application fee. “Funding from Carnegie Corporation and the other national funders has helped the NAC and its affiliates save immigrant communities an estimated $36.6 million in legal fees and an estimated $6.4 million in USCIS fees, for a net saving of $43 million since the campaign began in July 2011,” explains Leah Muse-Orlinoff, best practices manager of the NAC. She added that between the first quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013, the NAC more than doubled the previous number of applications completed by its partners, from 2,500 to nearly 5,300.

The need to learn English, a lack of knowledge about the process, and family and work demands can hinder people from applying for citizenship. In addition, application fees have risen dramatically in the last few decades, from $35 in 1985 to $6803 today, with an especially steep rise between 2004 and 2007 when the cost nearly doubled. For a family of four that seeks naturalization, the cost would be $2,720. If an application is declined, the person loses the fee. By comparison, a 10-year renewal of a green card is $450.

A 2013 study, “Nurturing Naturalization. Could Lowering the Fee Help?” provides new data that bolster the importance of “price sensitivity.” The report states that “...fee increases can have a significant impact on both the volume and the composition of who naturalizes. Fee increases trigger a dramatic decline in the naturalization of less-educated (and likely lower income) immigrants, an increase in the number of years immigrants wait to become citizens, and a change in the national origin of the naturalizing population, in particular a relative reduction in those who were born in Mexico.”4 Twenty percent of immigrants surveyed in two separate studies mentioned in the report said that cost was a major factor in whether to move ahead with naturalization or not, and one-fourth of Latino immigrants attending citizenship workshops said they had borrowed money to pay their fee. If people need legal assistance or have to pay for English language classes, that also significantly increases the cost of becoming a citizen.

An April 2013 New York Times op-ed, further reinforcing that fees can significantly impact a decision to apply for naturalization, points out that “... an employee earning the federal minimum wage would have to work for more than two months to pay for an application for himself or herself, a spouse, and two children.”5 The authors of the op-ed, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Luis V. Gutierrez, a U.S. representative from Illinois, urge “an easy, common-sense fix to ensure that eligible permanent legal residents who are already in this country don’t have their path to citizenship blocked by onerous fees.”

“For a low- or middle-income family of four, the cost of filing applications is substantial,” says Geri Mannion, who leads Carnegie Corporation’s U.S. Democracy Program and the Special Opportunities Fund. “Yet people so much want to become citizens, but sometimes they just need a little encouragement. It’s important to communicate and to raise awareness that citizenship is a positive thing. The New Americans Campaign is making great strides toward streamlining the process and helping eligible immigrants with fees, either by obtaining a low-income waiver or a loan.”

Reaching Out Across America

As of March 2013, the NAC had hosted more than 1,000 naturalization workshops and clinics across the country, assisting more than 52,000 LPRs from dozens of countries prepare their applications and providing them with information about where to get help learning English and studying for the citizenship exam. The Campaign has also held 120 CitizenshipWorks events in multiple languages. Prior to the NAC campaign there were limited resources and staff to help with this much-needed assistance.

On the West Coast, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), which is a national partner in the Campaign, joined with USCIS and the Los Angeles mayor’s office to host a workshop at the Central Library on March 13, 2013; the program included a mock interview to familiarize potential citizens about the type of questions to expect during a required interview with USCIS staff. The Los Angeles NAC team has partnered with local groups from the Cambodian, Korean, South Asian, and Filipino populations and has close ties with the Asian Pacific media, which promotes information about their services. “We have a very diverse spectrum of AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) groups represented in our community,” says Joyce L. Noche, supervising attorney of the Immigration and Citizenship Project of APALC. “At the March workshop we had people who, as a group, spoke 10 different AAPI languages, and we were able to process over 200 applicants. It’s the largest workshop we’ve ever done, so we’re very proud of it.” She added that APALC also launched Chinese and Vietnamese versions of CitizenshipWorks, and will be adding a Korean language version soon. Previously there had been English and Spanish versions.

Two of the Los Angeles NAC local partners have worked with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and USCIS director Alejandro Mayorkas to team with the city’s 73 public libraries and have established “Citizenship Corners” in every branch library where patrons can find print and online information, including CitizenshipWorks. (Other such programs are in place in other cities served by the NAC.) Librarians have attended special training sessions, including one for 50 public law librarians, that prepare them to assist people with information about naturalization; the libraries also offer workshops and English literacy classes.

At a NALEO workshop, people line up to participate and emerge with citizenship materials.In San Jose the NAC members created a partnership with the Social Services Agency (SSA) of Santa Clara County, which is where many immigrants turn for food stamps, money assistance, or medical insurance. “The success of collaboration with SSA is related heavily to the fact that it was already well known,” says Vanessa Sandoval, immigration legal services program director of the Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network. “The feedback that we received from clients was enlightening and motivating. Many were low-income seniors for whom SSA was their only contact to the community; they were grateful for the opportunity to receive our assistance.” Through the SSA partnership the group conducted automated calls to 20,000 recipients of public benefits; the lively, encouraging, and informative message about upcoming workshops was in English and Spanish. A phone bank special event with Telemundo, a local Spanish broadcasting station, also helped promote events.

The unique fishing communities of Vietnamese refugees living in remote areas of southeast Texas, such as San Leon, Anahuac, Bridge City, Port Arthur, and Oak Island, which are an hour and a half or more from Houston, came to the attention of Boat People SOS after Hurricane Ike swept through the area in September 2008. “Immigrants in Oak Island had fled their storm-ravaged homes, and some were living in tents,” says Jannette Diep. She and other BPSOS staff helped the immigrants connect with FEMA officials and get the help they needed. It was through this contact that the service providers realized that many of the immigrants were unaware they were eligible for citizenship. “Some of them had been legal permanent residents for 30 years,” Diep says. “Their permanent resident cards were so worn out and were in an older format than the newly issued permanent resident card used now. It had never dawned on a lot of them that they could become U.S. citizens.”

Since BPSOS joined the NAC, the group has been able to expand its outreach tremendously. Diep, who immigrated to the United States as a young child and became a U.S. citizen when she became eligible at age 18, says that every day she meets people with amazing stories: “Our organization serves many people who are torture survivors of the Vietnam War,” she says. “They all have amazing backgrounds, but one story stands out. This client was fine during the citizenship class, but when he went through a mock interview session patterned after one that he would have with USCIS, he would get really upset and could not answer the questions. He couldn’t handle the images that came back to him of being alone in a room and being questioned.” Diep and other staff patiently worked with the client over several weeks, allowing him to express his feelings and talk about his experiences, while reassuring him that no one would hurt him or attack him. “You are in the United States, where no one is going to hurt you,” she and others told him. The client slowly began to trust the situation and eventually was able to conduct his citizenship interview successfully. “He is only one example; there are many men in their 60s and 70s who have never been able to talk about their experiences before,” Diep explains. Now he is a registered voter, as are all of our clients.” To underscore the importance of voting, before the 2012 presidential election, staff members called each one of the new American citizens they had helped to make sure they had registered to vote and later called again just prior to the election, urging them to cast their vote.

In Miami the six NAC partners plan to hold weekly workshops in the Miami-Dade area for members of their diverse ethnic community. Connecting with offices of elected officials, which is where immigrants often seek citizenship assistance, has resulted in a new way to inform people about the NAC events. Their relationship with the South Florida Congressional delegation is in place, and plans are in the works to partner with state and local officials. The Miami group also has pioneered a partnership with their schools so they can bring their citizenship message directly to students enrolled in adult education English as a second language (ESL) and civics classes. “It’s a good fit,” says Randolph P. McGrorty, site leader and executive director of the Catholic Legal Services, Archdiocese of Miami. “The students attending these classes are already motivated to become citizens; they have demonstrated an interest and taken that first step. We let them know what help we can provide. We hope to ease this program into the day school and even the college level.”

Hickory/Morganton, a remote area of North Carolina about two-and-a-half hours from Charlotte, is home to thousands of Hmong refugees who escaped persecution after the Vietnam War. Resettled in this rural community, they are employed mostly by local factories while growing their own food and living much as they did in Laos. “Communities like this are isolated geographically, but also linguistically and socioeconomically,” says Cat Bao Le, executive director of the Southeast Asian Coalition (SEAC). “It’s sad to hear stories of people saving up money to fly to Fresno or Minnesota, larger Hmong communities, just to receive citizenship services. There is not even a mainstream immigration attorney for hundreds of miles around, and certainly not a culturally sensitive service to help this community in their native language without charge.” The two other NAC partners in the Charlotte area are the Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Charlotte and the Latin American Coalition. They share resources, data bases of volunteers, and reach out to immigrant communities across the western part of North Carolina to bring citizenship information and services to diverse groups of immigrants in urban and rural settings.

SEAC has held workshops for other Southeast Asian communities in the Charlotte area, including a number at churches and grocery stores, which are often staffed with community volunteers as well as the help of collaborative partners such as the Latin American Coalition and Catholic Social Services. The next fair will be a citizenship fair in Samthong village, an even more remote Lao village near Charlotte. “The community is very hidden and made up of mobile homes on small plots of land, even the street signs are in Lao. You wouldn’t know they were there unless you were looking,” says Le. “The more we do our work, the more these communities are emerging and asking for our services. It’s been eye opening.” One workshop, which was held in a renovated barn in a delightful country setting, introduced many refugees to the idea that they, too, could become American citizens. “Seeing these folks who really want to be citizens and are really `jazzed’ at the idea that they can finally be American citizens makes you step back and appreciate what you have and gives you perspective,” says Andrea Slusser, immigration supervisor at Catholic Social Services, Diocese of Charlotte and the NAC Charlotte site leader. “They see U.S. citizenship as a treasure.”

Southeast Asian Coalition volunteers and attorneys gathered at teh farm of Chia Xa (front row, third from left), who provided the use of his barn for a citizenship workshop for Hmong immigrants in a rural area of North Carolina

“A December 2012 workshop assisted Southeast Asian, Latino, and Slavic immigrants and called out more than 45 volunteers plus another 10-to-15 language-specific volunteers and about 12 attorneys and BIA accredited representatives,” says Adriana Galvez Taylor, immigrant rights program director of the Latin American Coalition. “Most of the people that come don’t feel very confident in their own ability to complete the forms. We put emphasis on the fact that completing the application is another step to achieving full access and full integration to legal services and legal rights. It opens the door to introduce other principals of civic engagement such as becoming more aware of issues in their communities.”

The Charlotte Campaign partners’ dynamic relationship with the Charlotte School of Law includes numerous paralegal volunteers at workshops, and, occasionally, a professor volunteering for legal review duties. LAC’s immigration practice provides a training ground for law students interested in pursuing immigration law as a career through one- or two-semester internships.
The City University of New York (CUNY) Citizenship Now! (www.cuny.edu/citizenshipnow) has a cohort of 1,800 volunteers including immigration lawyers, paralegals, and others with an inherent interest in immigrant issues. Many volunteers were immigrants themselves or come from immigrant families. “Most other organizations look to us for their best practices in terms of using volunteers, providing services, and the form and function of how these services are delivered,” says Tamara Bloom, legal coordinator of this New York City group. She adds that volunteers receive specialized training and must adhere to the highest ethical and legal standards; in turn they are recognized in special ways including designation of a “volunteer of the month,” who is featured in the group’s newsletter. As another symbol of the importance of their efforts, volunteers receive Citizenship Now!
e-mail greetings on their birthdays. “Our volunteers are an interesting mix of people,” explains Bloom. “They are incredible and remarkably diverse. Some of them have received services from us and completed their citizenship applications and then begin volunteering with us.”

A citizenship workshop coordinated by Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte (formerly Catholic Social Services), Latin American Coalition and Southeast Asian CoalitionBefore the Campaign began, the primary mission of the International Rescue Committee had been to resettle refugees and help provide them with social services, but Campaign support has enabled the New York partner to extend its efforts to include naturalization. “Our collaboration has impacted us across the board and has expanded our outreach to nonrefugee communities,” says Paula Forero, director of immigration. “It’s been transformational for us.” She added that since October 2012 the group has helped more than 4,600 immigrants file naturalization applications.

Helping Immigrants at Their Work Sites

For immigrants who are grappling with the demands of jobs in the service industry, the barriers to applying for and gaining citizenship—including low pay, long commutes, and worrisome family concerns—can be overwhelming. The Bethlehem Project is an innovative NAC program that has found a way to connect the needs of workers with the needs of businesses. Working with human resource personnel and other business staff, the project, which began in November 2012, links companies with service providers in their communities that arrange citizenship workshops on the business site during lunch breaks and before or after work. The program, which currently is working with six companies in four pilot sites (Miami, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Jose) has already helped hundreds of people through the three-step process that includes initial screening, application processing, and civics instruction. The project’s name is a reference to the fact that in 1915 Bethlehem Steel was among the first U.S. businesses to offer free English language instruction to its immigrant employees.6

“The genius of the project is that it helps to eliminate the barriers that a lot of legal permanent residents face,” says Jennie Murray, manager of integration programs of the Bethlehem Project, which is administered by the National Immigration Forum. “We run into many people who have had green cards for 20, 25, or 30 years. When they find out that they can get this service from their employer—who is someone that they already trust—and that they often can get a fee waiver or discount through the employer or the service provider, then they are able to jump over those barriers and finally become citizens.”

In addition to helping immigrants, the program is a boon to businesses, aiding with recruitment and boosting loyalty, retention rates, and productivity. “A program like this fits perfectly into our corporate mission and culture; it allowed us to address an issue impacting almost 30 percent of our workforce, said Nilmarie Almodovar, human resources director of the Betsy Hotel, South Beach, in Miami. “The program is easy to handle and coordinate. The program staff supported us through the different stages of the project... [They] were flexible in scheduling the sessions, and the speakers were very professional and knowledgeable. Our partnership with the Bethlehem Project demonstrates to our employees that we care and support their best interests, even beyond the workplace.”

My Journey to Naturalization

Every year more than 600,000 people become naturalized U.S. citizens; each one has a deeply personal story. Here are a few of them:

• A single mother from the Dominican Republic who sought to improve her life by coming to the United States was faced with many bills, and her dream of becoming a citizen was stalled. Belma Brea had concluded that, “spending hundreds of dollars to become a citizen [seemed] like a luxury for [yet] another dream.” Since she “already felt like an American,” she wondered “why go through the hassle?” Then illness prompted Brea, who lived in New York City, to focus not only on her future but that of her oldest son, Yeiram, who was born before she came to the United States. Soon her concerns prompted action. Through the outreach efforts of the NAC, Brea learned about a citizenship workshop being held by the NALEO Educational Fund, a Campaign partner. She sought help from them and began working with staff members to prepare her application and stepped up her efforts to learn English and prepare for the history and civics exam. It was a proud day for Brea when she became a U.S. citizen in April 2012, and she continues to look forward to being able to help her son begin the naturalization process and envisions the day when she is standing next to him at the naturalization ceremony, with both of them “waving the flag together and knowing that he can proudly say he’s an American citizen.” “She is such an amazing, strong person, an inspiration,” said Ana Almanzar, New York program manager of Civic Engagement, the NALEO Educational Fund, who worked with Brea. “She always brings a smile to my face.”

• Antonieta Vargas came to the United States from Mexico as a newlywed in 1952; her husband was a U.S. citizen by birth and had been raised in Mexico. She is the mother of Arturo Vargas, who is now executive director of NALEO Educational Fund. Mrs. Vargas, partly because of her son’s work, decided in 1994 to attend a NALEO citizenship workshop at her neighborhood elementary school, and several months later she became a citizen at a ceremony in the Los Angeles Convention Center.7 At the ceremony, Arturo asked his mother why she had decided to seek citizenship after so many years. Mrs. Vargas quickly answered that she appreciated the work he was doing and wanted to support it and that she wanted to vote against Governor Pete Wilson and the ballot Proposition 187, the “grandfather” of all anti-immigrant state legislation, which Wilson had endorsed and used as a centerpiece of his re-election campaign. “My mother, who is now 84, had decided she had had enough of the scapegoating of Latino immigrants and wanted a voice,” Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO Educational Fund, says proudly. “She was one of the million legal permanent residents in California who became U.S. citizens during the next decade, profoundly affecting the political landscape of the state. She has not missed an election since!”

• When Hua and Huan Mo and their children immigrated to the United States from China, they hoped to find a better life for their family. But since they both work six days a week in a restaurant, it took them seven years to become U.S. citizens. Mr. and Mrs. Mo took an English and civics class at a facility in Los Angeles’ Chinatown; with their long work hours it was a yearlong struggle, but their children helped them along the way, and both Mr. and Mrs. Mo passed the citizenship test and became naturalized U.S. citizens. With their citizenship in place, their children were eligible to become U.S. citizens more quickly. “It’s quite fitting (that they all became citizens), since it was a collective family effort,” says Joyce L. Noche, supervising attorney of the immigration and citizenship project of APALC.

• Juan Garcia, who emigrated from Mexico in 1985 when he was 18 years old, waited until he was 43 years old to become a citizen. His brothers, who are U.S. citizens, had prompted him for years to take the next step and apply. “You’re falling behind,” they told Juan, now 43 years old, married, and father of four children, all of whom were born in the United States. Garcia, who says, he “always loved this country,” eventually decided to become a U.S. citizen, and on the same day he took the oath of citizenship, he registered to vote. Now the man who once put his dreams of U.S. citizenship aside, says he looks forward to voting and perhaps, one day, to helping elect a president of the United States.

Looking to the Future

Reaching out to qualified immigrants in redefined and reenergized ways, the New Americans Campaign is building collaborations among groups that have been working independently for many years to provide services to immigrants. Their national collective efforts have been yielding unprecedented results, significantly boosting the numbers of immigrants who apply for U.S. citizenship, though the Campaign began full-scale only in
late 2012.

“Welcoming immigrants to America’s shores and helping them become U.S. citizens who fully embrace their new country is a tradition that represents the very essence of our democracy,” says Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York. “The New Americans Campaign is forging innovative, modern ways for continuing to honor this tradition, and by doing so, is helping to ensure that our nation remains strong, our society continues to advance, and that the hope we all have for the progress and future of America is realized in the years ahead. Carnegie Corporation is proud to be a part of this invaluable work.” 

Vol. 7 / No. 2 / Summer 2013